Ask the Chinese

"Did we actually win in 2016?"


Two major events of June and July this year:

One, the June 9 ramming of a wooden Filipino fishing boat by a steel-hulled three-deck Chinese fishing vessel and the abandonment of the former’s 22 fishermen by the attacker. The Filipinos almost drowned in high waters in early dawn of June 10, until a Vietnamese boat came to rescue them, six hours later. The Filipino boat, Gem-Ver, was anchored at Reed Bank (what Manila calls Recto Bank) and all of but one of its 22 occupants were asleep when it was rammed.

Reed (Recto) Bank is north of Mischief Reef and is not a small place. It covers an area of 8,866 square kms—324 times the size of Makati City. It has depth of nine to 24 meters. It is a rich fishing ground. It also supposed to be rich in oil, so rich its crude reserves could solve the Philippine energy shortage. South China Sea, in fact, according to Chinese studies, contains 17 billion tons of crude, 30 percent more than the reserves of oil-rich Kuwait, OPEC’s third largest oil producer. One ton has seven barrels of oil.

Recto Bank and Mischief Reef belong to the Philippines they being inside the country’s 200-mile (from Palawan) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). With its EEZ, the Philippines has sovereign rights to the fisheries, minerals and other economic assets in the areas, but not territorial rights, as it does with territories defined under the Treaty of Paris of 1898 when Spain sold the Philippines, along with Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam, to America for $20 million. China should have bought us at that time, then we wouldn’t have had problems like President Duterte being always deferential to Beijing.

The crashing of the Filipino boat was denounced initially by Manila as deliberate, malicious and criminal. The Chinese explained it this way: The Chinese fishermen were stupid. They didn’t know what they were doing. They were also coward, well, sort of. The Chinese fishermen were afraid of their lives so they ran away. It is a stupid and cowardly explanation.

Two, the third anniversary of the July 12, 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration denying China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea based on historic title or its nine-dash line map. No such thing, said the PCA, because the claim violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, the tribunal did not rule on the ownership of the islands nor did it delimit maritime boundaries.

Naturally, Beijing ignored the ruling. The arbitral court, it turns out, has no way to enforce its own rulings.

So the Chinese proceeded to convert reefs into man-made islands in the South China Sea and even put up military installations on four of them. The island-building activities involved seven reefs – Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, Subic Reef, and Mischief Reef, all inside or just outside the Philippine EEZ.

China has built airfields at Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross, plus infrastructure for possible missile, radar and helicopter installations.

Back in 2010, China declared the South China Sea its core interest, meaning they will kill people and fight states who violate their alleged claims. That is the hard approach.

The soft approach is the Chinese will give you loans, development assistance, investments, tourists, and even outright cash if you look the other way. To institutionalize that, China has invented a so-called Belt and Road Initiative.

If you trace the route of BRI, it goes very far away from the South China Sea, up to Europe, Russia and India. Beijing has also put up the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank. AIIB seeks to fund Asia’s infra needs, estimated at $1.7 trillion per year until 2030. Infra means energy, transport, water and sewerage, ports and airports, areas where the Philippines has severe inadequacy. More than 90 countries are joining AIIB.

If you have projects and you need funding pretty fast with little due diligence, borrowers are better off approaching AIIB than say the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the IMF—all of which are controlled by just three groups—the US, Europe, and Japan. Europe names the head of the IMF, US names the head of the World Bank, and Japan, the ADB. Nice setup.

By the way, ADB was set up in Manila 50 years ago. At that time, the Philippines was almost as rich as Japan, had little or no poverty problem, and half of ASEAN were not even sovereign states. Today, Philippines has 25 million Filipinos who are dirt poor and more than half of ASEAN are now richer than the Philippines. What happened ADB?

In the July 2016 PCA ruling, the Philippines won supposedly a major victory and Beijing suffered a colossal setback.

In the June 9, 2019 incident, the Philippines is in danger of losing its case against the Chinese for maritime violence and violation of the law on conduct of vessels in the high seas.

Question: Did we actually win in 2016? Ask the Chinese. Are we going to win the June 9 case against the Chinese? Ask the Chinese.

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Topics: China , Philippines , Reed Bank , Mischief Bank , Exclusive Economic Zone
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