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Manila keeps eye on Beijing in South China Sea

Kyodo

The Philippines is keeping vigilant in light of China’s “clear intent” to beef up its military presence in the South China Sea, particularly in a shoal located inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, according to classified Philippine government papers seen by Kyodo News.

“China has maintained a constant presence of at least two or three marine surveillance ships and a frigate in the vicinity of the shoal conducting surveillance patrol and illegal fishing,” the document said.

Pictures show Chinese navy ships operating in the area as well as fishing vessels loaded with giant clams and corals harvested from the shoal.

“All these activities are being done under the watchful eyes of Chinese government vessels,” the document said.

Since February, the Philippine military has noted an increase in sightings of Chinese maritime law enforcement vessels and Chinese navy ships in the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal, about 105 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines’ westernmost island province of Palawan.

The Philippine military says Chinese navy and government vessels have operated in the disputed area on 24 occasions from 2010 to 2012, nearly a threefold increase from 1995-2009.

Philippine security officials have vowed to protect the shoal at any cost.

China’s aggressive presence in the area, the Philippine government paper said, has prompted Manila to draw up a “contingency plan” for fear that China might resort to a blockade or even seizure of the shoal by force.

The contingency plan includes an “urgent upgrading” of the military’s equipment, naval and air assets that will boost the military’s capability in that part of the disputed sea.

“We do not want a repeat of Scarborough Shoal,” the document said, referring to China’s occupation last year of the shoal, a large coral reef located 124 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon Island, the main island of the Philippines.

China, Taiwan and the Philippines claim ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, north of the disputed Spratly Islands.

The submerged Second Thomas Shoal is part of a group of islands, rocks, reefs and cays known together as the Spratly Islands, which are claimed in part or in whole by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

Four claimant countries — China, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam — have stationed troops in the islands they control.

The Philippines has garrisoned troops on nine pieces of disputed territory, including Second Thomas Shoal.

“The persistent sightings of maritime law enforcement vessels in the shoal have been continuing in the past weeks,” the Philippine government document said.

Beijing has demanded that Manila remove a rusty, World War II-vintage landing ship it grounded on the shoal in 1999 that serves as an outpost for Philippine troops.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Philippines’ Western Command, said that while China has not shown signs that it will take over the shoal, the Philippine military is on the alert and closely monitoring the situation.

“Rest assured that we will not leave Ayungin,” he said, referring to the local name of Second Thomas Shoal. “We will maintain our detachments and outposts.”

  • Kolbe Max

    The Philippines has learned its lesson and to lose Ayungin shoal would open the gateway to the most important prize of all Reed bank which is already known to have vast quantities of natural gas needed badly by the Philippines to keep energy costs at manageable levels.

  • Paldo

    More than 400 years ago and in the Ming Dynasty, the emperor
    sent an eunuch called Zheng He to lead an expedition fleet from the
    “Central Kingdom” to the south-east Asian countries then to south
    Asia and as far as Madagascar (Africa). He had 7 trips altogether.

    Naturally they found a lot of islands in the South China Sea, named them and
    reported to the emperor. Since then, these islands came under the jurisdiction
    of China with officials visiting from time to time (and fishermen too).

    It was only about 50 years later when Magellan “discovered” the
    Philippines and made it the Spanish colony, until they were defeated by the US
    a century ago. Magellan was killed by the “lapu lapu” or the natives
    in Mactan (Cebu). Philippines get independent only after WWII and the founder
    is Rizal.

    For centuries the Philippines was not much developed. The fishermen can only
    manage fishing using the “kayak” near the shore.

    Since independent, the US still maintained the Subic Bay (naval) and Clark air
    base until they were “kicked” out in early 1990′s. For about 50 years
    PH enjoyed the protection from the US and the military is way far from modern
    and complete. Even now some (Filipinos) joke that the Filipino Air Force got
    only air but not force.

    For centuries, the PH never claimed ownership of any islands they are claiming
    now. This can reflect on their official documentations and maps.

    The PH government thought that they could grab the legs of Uncle Sam for
    protection. But things had changed. Of course the US welcome the reopen of the
    two bases, but only for short visits. No more huge army infrastructures
    rebuilding and stationing of many ships and air-crafts. Why! No money! Lately
    the US withdrew a lot of military to Guam, the second line of defense, and let
    the front-line countries do the dirty and costly jobs (proxy war).

    The current Aqino III’s spending spree on military hardware is minimal, compare
    with many other countries. They can only procure the second-hand or out-dated
    stuff, simply a waste of money in time of budget constraints and adverse
    economic climate worldwide.

    Philippines’ major current account incomes derive from the export to China,
    mainly agricultural-related. PH cannot stand any chance economically if argue
    with the PRC. They need hard cash for the import of manufactured items and
    energy.

    The PH’s naval vessels can hardly even match the sizes of PRC’s maritime
    surveillance vessels. Arguing with Vietnam is laughable. Both countries are too far.

    Talk the talk is easy, for PH!

    The PRC is just waiting for the first shot, from ANY side.

    • hai_nguyen

      .Forget about what the Philippines did or did not do since their independence. None of that permits China to steal/invade their territories.
      . Now let’s look at the joke that you just told people about Chinese claim of South China Sea. How did the 7 trips made by Zeng He translate to Chinese jurisdiction over all these islands: by passing by or stepping on lands or by naming them? Did he check with the locals to see if they were owned? How did he know that tribes, nations nearby did not practice sovereign control over them? Finally, at least some Chinese admits how China claims their rights: making a trip, name islands as found and assumes no one else lives/owns anything but Chinese.

      • Paldo

        The Zheng He mob of course claimed the unmaned islands, otherwise he should have included Luzon (PH).