By Roy Mabasa
A University of the Philippines (UP) expert on international maritime law has called on the government to lodge a protest against China’s latest action in the West Philippines Sea following Beijing’s official announcement that it has installed weather stations in the Spratlys.
“The Philippines should protest this latest action of China as it definitely part of the larger effort to assert China’s claims to sovereignty/rights over the long run, and unilaterally impose its position on other littoral States,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS), said in a message posted on his social media account, Tuesday morning.
Batongbacal was reacting to earlier statements made by Malacanang and the Department of Foreign Affairs that they are verifying reports of weather systems installed in at least three areas in the Spratlys – Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief reefs.
“China officially announced the installation of weather stations on its artificial islands in the Spratlys at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing on 01 November. There is no reason to doubt and “verify” this information since it is an official announcement by the MOFA spokesperson,” Batongbacal pointed out.
According to Batongabacal, these latest actions by Beijing “should be viewed in the context of the continued development and enhancement of military bases in China’s artificial islands, and as an extension of their efforts to gain de facto control of the SCS, including the West Philippine Sea.”
“Even if they may provide public goods, these are incidental to their primary role as part of China’s military bases. They also serve military purposes, as all large/important military bases have their own weather services to support their usual military operations such as launching and landing aircraft and ships,” the maritime law expert added.
In addition, Batongbacal said these latest developments in the area should also be seen “in the broader context of China’s attempt to administer and control activities in the SCS: they are meant to contribute to the longer-term effort to assert rights/exercise sovereignty over the SCS.”
“Acceptance of these “public goods” could be seen as acquiescence to China’s civilian administration and control of this sea region,” he said.
On Monday, the DFA said it is still verifying reports that China has installed weather observation stations in the West Philippine Sea and will only take appropriate action “once these are validated.”
Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing that the structures installed on three areas would mainly be used “to ensure navigational safety in the South China Sea.”