The massive reclamation by China on 7 reefs in the Spratlys, as shown by recent satellite photographs, is its most aggressive move in occupying South China Sea, haughtily disregarding claims by the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
The photographs show dredgers sucking up sand and piling it onto partly submerged reefs, creating artificial islands. In its frenzied reclamation, China is literally digging in while expanding its ground in the maritime dispute.
Our giant neighbor is also busy erecting concrete multi-storey structures on some of these reclaimed areas.
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, who has studied the dispute extensively, warns that the reclamations have “grave implications” on Philippine security, saying that the country faces a “national crisis.” (Read the lecture here.)
Moreover, he said that China is tampering evidence through its reclamations, as the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea deliberates on the arbitration case the Philippines has filed versus China.
China has nonchalantly explained this away by saying that they are merely building civilian facilities to “improve the living and working conditions of those stationed on the islands.”
But remember that was what they told the world in 1995 when several Chinese ships, some of which were armed, occupied Mischief Reef. They built what they claimed was a shelter for fishermen. These turned out, however, to be clusters of steel structures that looked like guard posts.
At the time, China did not yet have the economic and military might they enjoy today.
The Philippines then brought up the issue to the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). The foreign ministers were alarmed and issued a statement in March 1995. Here are excerpts:
“We, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, express our serious concern over recent developments which affect peace and stability in the South China Sea….
We call upon all parties to refrain from taking actions that destabilize the region and further threaten the peace and security of the South China Sea.
We specifically call for the early resolution of the problems caused by recent developments in Mischief Reef.
We urge countries in the region to undertake cooperative activities which increase trust and confidence and promote stability in the area.
We encourage all claimants and other countries in Southeast Asia to address the issue in various fora…”
Twenty years later, ASEAN needs to speak up again, with a stronger voice, against China’s fierce reclamation.
President Aquino has said that he would raise it in the ASEAN summit in Malaysia on April 26 and 27.
Years ago, Jose Almonte, former national security adviser, already urged ASEAN to “speak and act as one” because he said that this dispute was also about Southeast Asian security and survival. “The alternative is dire,” he warned, “[because] some countries could become once again a tributary, a vassal…of the great powers.”
Today, more than ever, Southeast Asia faces a “new colonizer,” no other than China. – Rappler.com