Monday, May 20, 2013
PH ENVOY BLASTS CHINA ANEW ON SEA SPAT BUT IS MUM ON TAIWAN
The country’s top envoy in Washington DC appeared to shift the focus of maritime spats with neighbors from the Philippine’s northern frontier back to the west where a large Chinese fishing fleet was headed to the disputed Spratly islands.
“Over the past two years, the whole world has seen the increase in belligerent activity in the waters in our part of the world, particularly in the areas in and around the West Philippine Sea,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia told the annual meeting of the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads last Friday.
His press release over the weekend made no mention of the more immediate conflict with Taiwan which has stopped hiring Filipino workers, cut trade ties and carried out a much-publicized saber-rattling naval exercise after the Philippine Coast Guard killed a Taiwanese fishermen in waters they both claim as part of their territory.
“When another country stations its boats on a shoal that is a mere 120 miles from our mainland and more than 400 miles from theirs, the Philippine cannot just keep quiet,” he stressed. Adding to his China tirade, Cuisia said “When another country declares that it owns about 75 percent of what the Philippines owns as exclusive economic zone, we are duty bound to stand up and protect it.”
The United States has expressed concern over the May 9 flare-up and called on both sides to lower the tension. The Philippines and Taiwan are longstanding American allies, crucial to its long-term designs to reign in China and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea through which, Cuisia pointed out, $1.3 trillion-worth of US products flow through yearly.
Some officials here say the Philippines is eager to put the crisis with Taiwan behind them and focus on the South China Sea where China has actually, and in some instances, virtually occupied Philippine territory. They have built permanent structures on Mischief Reef just 130 miles off Palawan and last year, cordoned off Scarborough Shoal which lies 120 miles off Zambales in the main Luzon Island.
Two Chinese spy ships have reportedly dropped anchor last week about 6 miles west off the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal, near Mischief Reef.
The Philippines has hauled China to a United Nations tribunal on the laws of the sea to have the latter’s claim, the so-called 9-dash-9, declared as invalid. China alleges that ancient maps assigned her ownership over virtually the entire South China Sea.
The Philippines has sought and received military assistance from the US, a treaty ally with which it has a mutual defence pact. “We are look at opportunities for assistance in training, capacity building and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Cuisia averred.
As part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US is stepping up its military presence in the region, including more frequent US Navy visits to the Philippines. Although Cuisia emphasized the American “rebalance” in Asia also entailed intensified economic and trade ties, there is no mistaking the security bias towards containing a militarily resurgent China and shielding America’s allies against her growing belligerence.
As if to emphasize that dimension of PH-US relations, Cuisia visited the USS Wasp, the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship which is being prepared to accommodate the US Marines variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Aircraft. He was able to speak with the ship’s Filipino-American crew members during the brief visit.