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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Tensions rising in disputed sea as China, US hold war games

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Tensions are rising anew in the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea, as the United States and China are taking hardline stances and ramping up war games with their respective navies in the disputed waters, with the Philippines in the middle of a potential conflict.

The South China Morning Post reported Monday that US military action over the South China Sea was destined to be futile and American allies would be harmed, Beijing said in a series of tough rebukes against Washington.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration plans to make an announcement this week related to escalating tensions in the waterway, where Washington and Beijing are vying for military supremacy, two people familiar with the matter said in a Yahoo News report.

The US has raised concerns over China’s decision to conduct military exercises in the contested waters around the Paracel Islands.

The US Defense Department last week called the actions “unlawful,” and the US plans to lay out its official position next week, said one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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The unspecified move comes as US President Donald Trump has intensified his criticism of Beijing over issues from the coronavirus pandemic to trade.

The threats are flying thick and fast in the South China Sea, the Australian news site reported.

It quoted Beijing’s state-controlled Global Times news service, which declared: “Any US aircraft carrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army).”

The US Navy’s chief of information retorted: “And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea.”

“The US is not a country in the region and it is doing large-scale exercises in the South China Sea, far away from its homeland, yet at the same time it is unreasonably accusing China of doing normal military exercises at its doorstep,” Zhang Junshe, a senior colonel in the Chinese navy, said in the Chinese government paper PLA Daily.

Beijing has built up a chain of artificial island fortresses in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and has been holding regular large-scale naval exercises there, the latest kicking off last week, the Australian website said.

Washington has just sent a battle group centred on two enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carriers into the same waters, and are also engaged in war games, it added. Satellite photos reveal that the US has also begun to expand and strengthen a Pacific island base. 

Meanwhile, the Duterte administration should be consistent in its position on the West Philippine Sea and use it as a starting point in any dealings with China in the disputed waters, a maritime expert said Monday.

This was after the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines’ arbitration victory against China is “non-negotiable” on the fourth anniversary of the verdict on Sunday.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, urged the Duterte government to be consistent, saying the country had “long waited” for the arbitral award.

“We had long waited for this. Even if it's late, at least it's here. I hope from now on, we stick to our current stand. We cannot go back on our word like a pendulum. China continues to ignore the arbitration victory,” Batongbacal told ABS-CBN.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday said the arbitral award represents “a victory, not just for the Philippines, but for the entire community of consistently law-abiding nations.” 

READ: DFA says no policy to appease China, chides critics

"The Tribunal authoritatively ruled that China’s claim of historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’ had no basis in law,” he said in a statement.

"Compliance in good faith with the award would be consistent with the obligations of the Philippines and China under international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to which both parties are signatories."

Vietnam last month released its statement as chairman of the 36th ASEAN Summit and said the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) "sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.”

China has ignored the arbitral award and recently established administrative districts in the South China Sea covering the Paracels and Spratlys as part of Sansha City of Hainan province.

Manila in April filed diplomatic protests against this, saying declaring parts of Philippine territory as part of Hainan province violated international law and Philippine sovereignty.

The country also protested the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters. It also objected to China’s naming of some features in the Kalayaan Island Group, saying the Philippines does not recognize them.

The DFA invoked the arbitral win of the Philippines, saying it “has comprehensively addressed China’s excessive claims and illegal actions in the South China Sea.” 

Chinese marine scientific research activities also reportedly conducted activities recently in Philippine waters without necessary clearances. 

READ: China, PH diplomatic ties remain strong

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