Chinese ships settle down like unwanted guests who will not leave.
As time passed, more appeared. China says they are just fishing boats, although they do not seem to be fishing. Allegedly, dozens of people were even tied together neatly, seeking shelter in case of storms in the future.
Not long ago, China claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea by building and strengthening artificial islands in waters that also claimed to have waters in Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Now, its strategy is to strengthen these outposts by crowding the disputed waters with ships, effectively making other countries ignore them and expel them.
Greg Poling, head of the “Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative” of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “Beijing clearly believes that if enough pressure and pressure are used for a long enough time, it will bring Southeast Asians Squeeze out the market.” Follow developments in the South China Sea in Washington. “It’s very insidious.”
China’s actions reflect China’s growing confidence under its leader Xi Jinping. They can test the Biden government and Beijing’s neighbors in the South China Sea, which are increasingly dependent on China’s strong economy and the supply of Covid-19 vaccines.
The most recent incident occurred near Whitson Reef in recent weeks. This is a boomerang-shaped feature that only appears above the water when the tide is low. According to reports, at a certain point in March, 220 Chinese ships moored around the coral reef, triggering protests in Vietnam and the Philippines (they all claim to be there) and the United States.
Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana (Delfin Lorenzana) called their presence an “obvious provocation.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam accused China of violating the country’s sovereignty and demanded that these ships leave.
Satellite photos taken by Colorado-based Maxar Technologies showed that some people had left in the past week, but many remained. According to satellite photos and Philippine officials, others were moved to another reef just a few miles away, and a new group of 45 Chinese ships was taken 100 miles northeast of Thitu, another island controlled by the Philippines in the northeast. Find.
Lorenzana said in a statement on Saturday: “The Chinese Embassy has a lot to explain.”
This accumulation has exacerbated tensions in the region, which, together with Taiwan, may become another bright spot in the growing confrontation between China and the United States.
Although the United States did not take a stand on the South China Sea dispute, it criticized China’s aggressive strategy in the South China Sea, including the militarization of its bases. Over the years, the United States has sent naval warships to conduct regular patrols to challenge China’s so-called right to restrict any military activity-three times since President Biden took office in January.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressed support for the presence of the Philippines in the presence of Chinese ships. He wrote on Twitter: “We will always support our allies and defend the rules-based international order.”
The deterioration of the situation highlights the further erosion of the Philippines’ control over disputed waters, which may pose a problem for the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte.
The country’s defense department sent two planes and a ship to Whitsun Reef to record the buildup, but did not intervene. Whether the Vietnamese army will respond is still unknown.
Critics say that China’s ignorance of the Philippines’ claims reflects Duterte’s failed efforts to reassure Beijing’s Communist Party leaders.
Senator Laila de Lima, Duterte’s most staunch political opponent, said: “People need to listen to the voice of the commander-in-chief. They are cowards for China, but they are bullies for their own people.” Duterte Mr. Te has not dealt with the matter publicly, although his spokesperson hinted that he is making quiet efforts to alleviate the situation.
China has cancelled the protests. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that Chinese fishermen “have been fishing in the waters near coral reefs.” Philippine officials and experts said there was no evidence.
Whitsunday Reef is part of an atoll called Union Bank, about 175 nautical miles from Palawan, the island of the Philippines. The Philippines, China and Vietnam each claim that the atoll is in their own exclusive economic zone, but only China and Vietnam have established regular physical locations in the country, giving each country a security advantage when claiming control rights, even if it is not a legal advantage. .
Since the 1970s, Vietnam has occupied four small islands in the atoll, and China has established two outposts on its previously submerged coral reefs since 2014 as part of its program of seven artificial islands. . The two outposts on Gleason Reef occupied by Vietnam and Hughes Reef occupied by China are less than three nautical miles apart.
An international court convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled in 2016 that China’s claims for expansion in almost all areas of the South China Sea have no legal basis, although it did not divide the territory into various claimants. China’s claim is based on the “nine-dotted line” drawn on the map before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The Philippine patrol first reported a large number of ships on Whitson Reef on March 7. According to Mr. Polin, satellite photos show that, in the past year, Chinese people have often appeared on the reef, albeit in small numbers.
According to a statement issued on Wednesday by the Philippine National Task Force in the West Philippine Sea, as of March 29, there were still 45 ships remaining on Whitsunday. The agency reports to the Office of the President of the Philippines. The task force counted 254 ships and four Chinese warships on the Spratly Islands that day, which consists of more than 100 islands, coral reefs and other outcrop islands between the Philippines and Vietnam.
The task force said that these 254 ships are not fishing boats as Beijing said, but are part of the Chinese maritime militia. On the surface, they are militia and have become an important part of China’s new maritime strategy. Although many of these ships are unarmed, they are all operated by reserve personnel or other personnel who execute the orders of the Coast Guard and the People’s Liberation Army.
The task force’s statement said: “They may engage in illegal activities at night, and their lingering (emerging) presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment,”
The existence of so many Chinese ships is daunting. “By putting them there and spreading them around the reefs occupied by others, in large swathes of water around oil and gas fields or fishing grounds, you are steadily driving out the Filipinos and Vietnamese,” Mr. Paulin said.
He said: “If you are a Filipino fisherman, then you will always be harassed by these people.” “They are always adjusting too close and bragging about you. At some point, you just give up and stop fishing there. “
Apart from patrols and speeches, the Duterte administration does not seem to be eager to confront China. His spokesman Harry Roque responded to the Chinese saying that these ships were only temporary shelters.
He said: “We hope that the weather will improve, and in a friendly spirit, we hope that their ships can only leave the area.”
The Philippines has become increasingly dependent on Chinese trade and has become more generous while fighting the epidemic.
On Monday, the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Manila from China with great fanfare. It is planned to reach 4 million doses by May, some of which are donated. Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian attended the vaccine’s arrival ceremony and then met with Mr. Duterte.
“China is encroaching on our seas, but it is softening it by sending us vaccines,” said Antonio Carpio, a blunt retired Supreme Court judge who is an expert in maritime disputes. “Relieving their blow is part of their public relations work, but we should not succumb to this.”