Expert warns against soft stance on China

CHINA appears to be making some headway from the Philippines’ “soft” stance on the South China Sea disputes, Jay Batongbacal, seen as a maritime expert, said Saturday.

“The government seems to be trading away its advantages too soon, just too much too soon,” Batongbacal, director of University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told a forum in Quezon City.

“We are trading away too much too soon, and increasing our weaknesses... I don’t think it’s wise because China is gaining too much from our softness on these issues,” the maritime law expert emphasized.

In July 2016, the Philippines won a favorable ruling in the international arbitration court that invalidated China’s historical claims on several islands in the West Philippine sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, said he was temporarily setting aside the ruling to avoid confrontation with China, but vowed to raise it at the right time during his presidency—a timeline that, in the view of his critics, was not clear.

Batongbacal said: “We might become too dependent on China’s generosity. We will lose our energy security, our independence to explore and exploit our own resources.

Elsewhere, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano rejected the photos released this week showing China’s almost finished reclamation in the disputed sea, justfying that all claimant countries had in fact their own reclamation.

Aside from defending China, Cayetano said the structures were built even before President Duterte assumed the office and that they should not be blamed for it.

“You tell us, how do we stop it? And it’s not only China that has built a runway. Other countries have built a runway also in the features that are held by them,” Cayetano told reporters.

In 2014, it was reported that China began massive dredging operations in seven reefs in the Spratly Islands—Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, and Johnson South Reef.

“When the admininistration [of Duterte] came in they were already reclaiming and building there...How can we stop it?” he said.

Cayetano reiterated the promise of China to Duterte that it would “no longer” build in the disputed areas.

“The way we’re approaching it, let’s stop it from getting worse...” Cayetano said.

But Batongbacal slammed Cayetano’s remarks, stressing the situation in the South China Sea “is already getting worse” because the Philippines was not joining other claimant countries to call on China to stop its steady and ongoing militarization of its artificial islands.

“Philippines is not supposed to stop China on its own, it only has to work with others to do it,” Batongbacal said.

Batongbacal also rejected Cayetano’s claim that all claimant countries had built their own runways.

He said: “None of the claimants except China had three runways that can launch attacks on the Philippines and other claimants. 

“None of the other claimants can operate fighters and bombers, store extensive munitions, operate medium range anti-air and anti-ship missiles, engage in long range electronic surveillance, interdict international shipping, or threaten air traffic in the SCS region from their current possessions.”

He also said “none” of the other clamants could expand or create more artifical islands, install nuclear power barges in them, extend distant water fishing operations into other countries’ exclusive economic zones and inter-island waters, deploy and support the continuous operation of numerous gigantic navy and coast guard ships, permanently station ships at fixed points at sea, openly and occasionally threaten the use of force, interfere with other claimants’ fisheries law enforcement within their own waters, or coerce other claimants into submission.” 

“And before bringing up militarization by external powers like US, UK, and Japan, keep in mind that at least those forces are on ships and aircraft that can actually leave. China’s artificial island bases won’t,” he said.

Topics: South China Sea disputes

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