China’s claims on the South China Sea are “stunning in their outright falsity,” former Ambassador and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Saturday, as he backed a study titled “Limits in the Seas No. 150” released by the US State Department on Jan. 14.
This developed as the Philippines has agreed to buy an anti-ship missile system from India, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday, shoring up its security in the face of growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana offered few details about the nearly $375 million (P19.24 billion) contract awarded to BrahMos Aerospace to supply an onshore anti-ship missile system to the Philippine Navy.
Manila’s military was one of the most poorly equipped in Asia when President Rodrigo Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, began a modest modernization program in 2012 — but it is still no match for its superpower neighbor China.
The US State Department, meanwhile, released a study called Limits in the Seas No. 150, building upon its 2014 study which found that the communist nation’s claims in the South China Sea “are plainly ungrounded in fact and in law,” said Del Rosario.
“Both these studies show that China’s claims are stunning in their outright falsity, such as claiming sovereignty over underwater features in the South China Sea as if they were land territories,” the chair of the Stratbase ADR Institute added.
“For instance, Mischief Reef forms part of the waters of the Philippines but China claims Mischief Reef as if it were land territory—thereby artificially and illegally converting the reef as one of its air and naval bases within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines,” he said.
What is remarkable in the US State Department study, Del Rosario said, is that it draws heavily from the 2016 Arbitral Ruling won by the Philippines in The Hague against China.
“We believe that this is part of an ongoing consolidation of positions around the 2016 Arbitral Ruling among those who adhere to the Rule of Law in international relations. We have already seen the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and our neighbors in the South China Sea invoke the 2016 Arbitral Ruling against China’s preposterous claims,” the former envoy added.
“We are proud to see that a small country like the Philippines is able to make that impact in the world, so that the Rule of Law prevails over China’s continuing deployment of brute force.”
Confronting China over its illegal claims in the South China Sea, Del Rosario said, “is an intergenerational struggle. We should elect a government that would strongly fight for what is ours and for all nations to uphold the Rule of Law.”
BrahMos — a joint venture between India and Russia — has developed a cruise missile that the Indian defense ministry says is the fastest in the world.
The Philippines would be the first country to purchase it. India’s defense ministry declined to comment.
The deal involves three batteries, training for operators and maintainers as well as logistics support, Lorenzana said on Facebook where he posted a copy of the “Notice of Award”.
Duterte has been seeking to acquire missile systems for the Philippine military under a modernization program called “Second Horizon”.
“It’s part of our territorial defense,” said Colonel Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The system would act as a deterrent to potential aggressors because “you can hit the target from far off,” he told AFP.
Military analyst and historian Jose Antonio Custodio told AFP the system would likely be stationed on the western side of the main island of Luzon or on Palawan Island, but he ruled out the Spratly Islands due to the “lack of concealment.”
Tensions over the South China Sea spiked last year, with Manila and Beijing accusing each other of territorial violations.
China claims almost all of the waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.