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Shelving disputes with Beijing has not worked for Manila: analyst

ROC Central News Agency

04/25/2021 04:01 PM

Taipei, April 25 (CNA) The policy of setting aside maritime disputes and seeking joint development with China does not seem to have worked out well for the Philippines as evidenced by Beijing's recent aggressive actions in the South China Sea, according to a security analyst at a government-funded think tank in Taiwan.

Huang Chung-ting (黃宗鼎), an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), was referring to the massing of Chinese fishing vessels around the Whitsun Reef since early March, which at one point reached as many of 220 in number.

Whitsun Reef is a V-shaped reef in a shallow coral region of the resource-rich Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It is now at the center of a deepening maritime row between Beijing and Manila.

Manila suspects the Chinese fishing vessels were manned by maritime militia personnel and the incident could be a prelude to a Chinese takeover of the maritime feature, which lies within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and is also claimed by Beijing on historical grounds.

According to Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, at least 10 China vessels were still anchored in the area as of April 20, despite diplomatic protests and increased patrols by Manila.

In his paper posted April 15 on the INDSR website, Huang suggested that the massing of fishing vessels could be Beijing's response to the United States' freedom of navigation operations.

He also speculated that the Chinese vessels could on a mission to build structures on the reef or to remove underwater spying devices sent by other countries. These vessels were operating with their ship trackers off and underwater lights on at night, he said.

The Rodrigo Duterte administration's response to Beijing in maritime disputes has been softer than that of its predecessor, the Benigno Aquino III government, Huang said in his paper.

For the Duterte administration, the country's claim to maritime rights in the South China Sea is negotiable in exchange for infrastructure investment, economic benefits and COVID-19 vaccine donations from Beijing, Huang said.

Following the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Beijing on oil and gas development in the South China Sea in 2018, Duterte lifted a moratorium on petroleum exploration in the waters in October 2020, "paving the way for possible joint ventures with China," he said.

"However, the Whitsun Reef incident proved that seeking joint development with China in the SCS (South China Sea) does not lead to the shelving of disputes, but only invites more incursions and aggression from China," he said.

In another paper published on April 19 on the INDSR website, Huang said the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) failed to effectively deter China from its aggressive actions in the South China Sea, citing an incident on April 8.

On that day, a Filipino fishing boat carrying reporters to see how Filipino fishermen fare under Chinese pressure was chased down by two Chinese vessels in waters only 90 nautical miles from the Philippine province of Palawan.

Huang attributed the MDT's failure to deter Beijing to a lack of will on the part of the Philippine government to resist China, the Duterte administration's lack of confidence in the U.S., and the failure of the U.S. to say whether the MDT covers attack on civilians in the area.

"The incursion of Chinese militia vessels into the Philippines' EEZ and the dislodgement of Philippine civilian vessels by Chinese Navy vessels shows the urgency for the U.S. and the Philippines to fill the gaps in their security cooperation under the MDT," Huang said.

(By Emerson Lim)

Enditem/AW



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