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Gov’t urged to rethink policy on South China Sea


By Roy Mabasa and Francis Wakefield

A Manila-based independent think tank called on the Duterte administration yesterday to rethink its policy on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue following China’s recent installation of anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles on Philippine-claimed islands.

MB FILE—Photographed through the window of a closed aircraft, an aerial view shows Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines on July 20, 2011. (EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA/POOL / MANILA BULLETIN)

Photographed through the window of a closed aircraft, an aerial view shows Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines on July 20, 2011. (EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA/POOL / MANILA BULLETIN file photo)

“While Beijing’s militarization of the disputed waters has long been obvious, the latest development escalates the tensions in the region and presents a situation for the government to explore other ways of dealing with the increasingly volatile situation,” the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRI) said in a statement.

The ADRI said the current administration’s decision to not ‘side with any parties’ to avoid being caught in the crossfire between superpowers should need not be the only option, noting, in particular, Vietnam’s call for China to remove the missile installations.

“The most common rationale cited — we are militarily not in a good position to wage war against Beijing —should not be a license to kowtow to China’s every whim.

After all, the threat of the use of force constitutes a violation of the United Nations Charter,” the think-tank said.

The ADRI pointed out that when the new administration shelved any discussions on the tribunal’s ruling, the militarization in the WPS “continued, unchallenged.”

It added that the so-called “pivot to Beijing” away from the country’s more traditional allies needs to be “revisited,” while exhausting all available mechanisms for unilateral, if not global, cooperation.

“The installation (anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missile systems) should serve as a wake-up call for the Duterte administration to revisit its foreign policy,” the ADRI said.

It said the Philippine options are not limited to either let the militarization continue or risk going to war with China, “but when it comes to foreign policy it’s important to approach the situation from a position of power, not weakness.”

In one of the recent forums hosted by ADRI, geopolitical experts focused their discussion on a study about the effects of the government’s “policy of appeasement” on the country’s strategic interests and the overall security of the Indo-pacific region.

The study recommended, among others, the revival of the QUAD, an informal security association among the United States, Japan, India, and Australia; the adoption of a long-proposed Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea; and even working with the United Nations General Assembly toward a consolidation of its members to promote international law, specifically UNCLOS.

15 Chinese military vessels visit Spratlys

Meanwhile, a United States-based research firm bared that at least 15 types of Chinese destroyers, frigates, combat ships and coast guard vessels has regularly landed in the disputed Spratly Islands since January 2017.

On its website which can be read via:
the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) claimed that it has documented the regular landing of 15 types of Chinese military and coast guard vessels in the Spratly Islands particularly on the “Big Three” outposts at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs.

The AMTI said that there has been growing presence of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China Coast Guard (CCG), and fishing fleets at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs over the last few months.

Among the vessels sighted on the Spratlys include 051B Luhai-class destroyer, DDG 167 Shenzhen; type 056 Jiangdao-class corvettes; PLAN type 053 frigates; several type 072 and 073A landing ships capable of transporting tanks, heavy vehicles, hovercrafts, and troops; PLAN Jianghu-1 WFF ships and AGI signals intelligence gathering ships.

“AMTI has identified as many PLAN and CCG vessels as possible in imagery taken since January 2017, and has selected representative images of each vessel class,” it said.

“For instance, several varieties of the PLAN Type 053 frigate were seen at the Big Three, including what appear to be Type 053H1, Type 053H1G, and Type 053H3 frigates,” it added.

AMTI said the Type 051B Luhai-class destroyer comprises just one ship — the DDG 167 Shenzhen.

When it was built in the 1990s, the Shenzhen was the largest surface combatant in the PLAN, though it has been followed by several newer models of destroyers. The

PLAN recently overhauled the Shenzhen’s outdated weapons systems to bring it more in line with modern combat needs.

In addition to several of the same types of ships AMTI reported on patrol in the Luconia Shoals off the coast of Malaysia, China Coast Guard ships seen at the outposts included several former PLAN Jianghu-class 053H1 frigates, redubbed Jianghu-1 WFF ships.

“Lastly, alongside the combatant and law enforcement vessels, an array of support ships, including tankers, tugboats, and replenishment vessels, as well as a Type 639 oceanographic surveillance ship have been seen,” it said.

The AMTI also claimed in its website that China deployed a military plane to Subi Reef in the Spralys, which it said should be a cause of concern for the Philippines.
Satellite imagery from April 28, 2018 confirmed deployment of a military aircraft, a Shaanxi Y-8.

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