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South China Sea Flash Point For Violence

Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
4:31 AM | Monday, May 11th, 2015

On April 24, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that a


Chinese ship acted aggressively five days before against a Philippine
military plane on patrol over waters claimed by Manila in the disputed
South China Sea.
The military said the Chinese vessel flashed powerful lights on the
Philippine Navy plane and radioed it to leave the area near Subi Reef,
one of the islands in the Spratlys chain occupied by the Philippines.
You are entering Chinese territory, leave, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc,
spokesperson for the AFP, quoted the Chinese crew as telling the
Philippine plane.
The pilots ignored the Chinese ships actions to avoid escalating the
encounter.
We will not respond with aggressive actions, as stated in the
Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,
Cabunoc said, referring to the 2002 agreement between the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China to maintain
the status quo in disputed waters.
Although the Chinese ship did not fire at the Philippine plane, the AFP
denounced the Chinese act of challenging the Philippine military right
in Philippine territory.
We are concerned why we are being challenged in our own territory.
This is an aggressive action on the part of the Chinese vessel,
Cabunoc said.
Earlier in April, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel fired a water cannon at
Filipino fishermen and seized some of their catch near Panatag Shoal
(Scarborough Shoal) off the coast of Zambales province.
China is claiming nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters
within the exclusive economic zones of its neighbors. The Philippines
has challenged the Chinese claim in a United Nations arbitral court.
Flash point

There is no reason to expect that the incident would not recur in the
near future, and what it tells us is that the South China Sea remains a
flash point for more violent encounters between Chinas vastly superior
naval forces and the weaker forces of Southeast Asian countries
including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysiathat have territorial
claims in the South China Sea rivaling those of China.
These maritime disputes were magnified in the April 26 to 27 Asean
summit in Malaysia. In that summit, Asean failed to declare nothing
stronger than its watered-down final statement, saying that the Asean
heads of state share the serious concerns expressed by some leaders
on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea,
which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace,
security and stability in the South China Sea.
Although the communiqu did not mention China by name, China did
not conceal its bullying attitude toward its smaller neighbors when the
Chinese foreign ministry, responding to the Asean statement through a
news briefing, lashed out at the denunciations of the Chinese
establishment of fortresses of sand on territories claimed by the
Philippines, Vietnam and other claimants.
Weak Asean stand
The communiqu merely echoed but failed to heed the call by
President Aquino for a robust, united front against the unprecedented
challenge of Chinas reclamation work in the Spratlys Islands.
At the Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysias Prime Minister Najib
Razak issued a wimpish statement that Asean would avoid a direct
confrontation with China but push for a quick conclusion of a binding
code of conduct to govern behavior in the disputed waters of the South
China Sea.
Aseans weakened position has only earned the scorn of Beijing. The
communiqu said the nonconfrontational approach to the dispute had
been effective in keeping tensions with Beijing at bay.
We will continue to engage China in a constructive way, Najib said.
We hope to be able to influence China. It is also in their interest not to
be seen as confronting Asean and that any attempt to destabilize the
region will not benefit China either.
Asean will seek expeditious resolution of a code of conduct with
China, which has been languishing in the dead-letter archives of bloc.

Najib also indirectly rejected calls by the Philippines for Asean to stand
up to China.
De facto control
Manila has warned that Beijing is poised to take de facto control of
the South China Sea with its construction of artificial islands on reefs
claimed by other countries in the area.
The massive reclamation activities undertaken by China pose a threat
to the security and stability of the region, cause irreparable damage to
the marine environment and threaten the livelihood of many of our
peoples, Filipino leaders said.
They warned that the reclamation works not only exacerbated tensions
in the region, but also showed that China would likely wait to complete
the reclamation before it agrees to conclude a code of conduct with
Asean.
The issue about environmental damage caused by reclamation is
something unlikely to impress China.
More important issue
The more important issue was raised at the summit by Philippine
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. He warned that China was poised
to consolidate de facto control of the South China Sea.
Del Rosario also pointed out that the land reclamation on disputed
reefs has raised the specter of permanent Chinese bases far out in the
sea from which it can enforce its sovereignty.
Stand up for what is right, Del Rosario said. Is it not time for Asean
to say to our northern neighbor that what it is doing is wrong and that
the massive reclamation must be immediately stopped? Is it not time
for Asean to finally stand up for what is right?
Malaysian rejection
But Malaysia, host of the summit, immediately rejected a response that
could antagonize China.
We avoid any action that would be counterproductive and bring us
further apart either among ourselves or with China, said Malaysian
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.