China opens maritime rescue base in West Philippine Sea
MANILA, Philippines — China launched a maritime rescue center on one of its artificial bases on the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), state-run media reported.
China’s Ministry of Transport opened the new facility on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), known to Beijing as Yongshu Reef, Xinhua said in a report on Tuesday.
“The center will offer better support to maritime rescue operations in the southern part of the South China Sea,” the ministry was quoted as saying.
Xinhua also reported that it deployed another rescue ship on Zamora Reef (Subi) last October to replace the first one it used in July.
China earlier announced that it would permanently station a search-and-rescue ship at Zamora Reef.
“Over the past six months, the two ships have rescued 16 people and two ships in eight operations. Property worth about 12 million yuan ($1.7 million) has been salvaged,” Xinhua said.
China claims nearly all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of its Southeast Asian neighbors the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, all of which have claims in the strategic waterway.
China to step up gray zone tactics in 2019
Maritime expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal told Inquirer.net early January that China is expected to step up its gray zone tactics in the months ahead to promote a “softer face” for these islands to downplay their military activities.
In a report for the US Department of State in 2017, the International Security Advisory Board defined “gray zone” as “the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals and frustrate those of its rivals by employing instruments of power—often asymmetric and ambiguous in character—that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces.”
“They’ll continue to give these islands a softer face to downplay their military purposes. It’s an attempt to look good to create more benign image in the region especially in light of ongoing competition with the US,” the expert said.
China insists that the facilities on its man-made islands in the Spratlys are primarily for civilian purposes despite the reported deployment of missile launchers and radar- jamming equipment.
Analysts say that the missile shelters, runways, ports, aircraft hangars built in recent years make it appear that these islands are military installations and definitely not for civilian use.
Batongbacal said China’s civilian activities such as the deployment of weather stations and permanent rescue ship should be given a similar concern to its military activities as these are meant to show administration of the area as part of its regular territory.
“China’s expansion of civilian activities is also an assertion of sovereign jurisdiction. It’s less intimidating but they’re no less important than the military activities. All of these civilian activities like the search and rescue ship, ecological protection, they are doing it unilaterally and is tantamount to an exercise of civilian administration and control by doing these things,” he said.
“They are still doing it regardless of potential response from the Southeast Asian States without respecting their respective maritime zones. What they’re trying to do is to present those islands in a supposedly more benign light. That’s why lately they’ve been trying to exercise the supposed public goods these islands can provide,” he added. /cbb/ac
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