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Another US sail-by, another China protest

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E CARTOON FEB 16, 2019Two United States guided-missile destroyers – the USS Spruance and the USS  Preble — sailed into the South China Sea last Monday, close to the Spratly island group near Palawan.  The  sail-bys were, as expected, immediately protested by China as a “provocative action.”

Earlier, last  January 7, another US warship, the USS  McCampbell, sailed  near the  Paracels, another group  of islands  also in the South China Sea but farther north,  between  Vietnam and Luzon. These are only the latest  incidents  involving  US ships and planes in the South China Sea. And they are not likely to be the last.

At  the  root of the dispute is China’s claim  to nearly all  of the South China Sea, defined by a nine-dash loop,  as its territorial waters and the  many islands  within the loop as its territory. The US, whose warships  sail  all  over the globe, rejects this claim, saying the  South China Sea  —  like other international waters – is open to all shipping  under the principle of “freedom of navigation.”

China’s  claim  is similarly disputed by several nations in Southeast Asia, notably the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.  The Philippines is specially concerned   as Scarborough Shoal, which is known to us as Panatag  or Bajo de Masinloc, is well within our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. But it is also within  China’s  nine-dash loop.

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)  have an understanding on their respective claims.  We will stand by our claims, especially since we are backed by the UN Arbitral Court in The Hague. But we all  agreed  to have a Code of Conduct  to guide our  moves and decisions  without giving up our  legal claims.

This has helped  keep  the peace between China and  the Southeast Asian nations, but the US, the world’s remaining  superpower, is not yielding  on the principle of “freedom of navigation.”  It has vowed to keep sending its warships and its  planes  into the South China Sea, close to the shoals China has built up with runways and garrisons.

The  danger  is that  one of  these days, a close encounter may  lead to a shooting incident, and  escalate into a wider  war which we all  fear. This is why the  Philippines  and its fellow ASEAN members hope  that some kind  of agreement, perhaps under  the United   Nations, can be reached to settle this matter.

We will continue to have these repeated sail-bys by American warships, followed  automatically by protests by China.  Surely  in  this  modern age, nations should be able to sit down and come to some agreement, knowing that a war like  those in the earlier days of our world is no longer possible in today’s nuclear age.

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