Pacifying the Pacific

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

In the aftermath of the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines, China unexpectedly took a conciliatory stance. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a press conference that EDCA does not seem to intimidate China. “It is justifiable for people to ask any agreement between the US and the Philippines be consistent with this principle and not at the cost of mutual trust between regional countries and regional peace and stability,” Qin said. “With regard to President Obama’s visit to the four Asian countries, we have expounded on our principled position on China-related issues. We believe that relevant parties should all make positive efforts to enhance mutual trust and cooperation and promote common peace, stability and prosperity in this region, rather than the opposite. The Pacific Ocean should be kept pacific.”

For someone who had been bullying her neighbors for the past several years – causing high tensions and apprehension among them – this is a welcome gesture. However, it remains to be seen if China was serious about it and back her entreaty up with actions. Or could it be that she is playing a game of deception while she’s planning a strategy to counter the success of Obama’s recent four-country Asian tour to reassure the United States’ defense treaty allies – Japan, South Korea, Philippines – that America is committed to come to their aid in the event of external attack?

As Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” says, “All warfare is based on deception,” many Chinese leaders had used this strategem successfully in military and political conflicts.

Land grab

Chinese fortifications on Panganiban Reef

Chinese fortifications on Panganiban Reef

Recent land-grabbing incidents where deception was used were in the South China Sea. In 1994, China built a platform on the tiny Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) purportedly to provide a rest stop for fishermen in the area. Since the reef was only 130 nautical miles from Palawan, the Philippines welcomed it, as it would be beneficial to Filipino fishermen. Wrong! As soon as the Chinese had established their presence in the area, they started building fortifications on the reef.

Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal

Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal

A more recent incident happened in 2012 at the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), 124 nautical miles from Luzon. After driving out Filipino fishermen from the lagoon in the shoal, a standoff ensued between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guard vessels. The U.S. brokered a deal where both countries would withdraw their vessels from the shoal. The Philippines complied with the agreement but China did not. Instead

China roped off the only entrance to the lagoon; thus, preventing Filipino fishermen from getting in.

These acts of land-grabbing through the use of deception have made China’s neighbors wary of her aggressive attempts to assert control over 90% of the South China Sea. She claimed that it has been a part of China since ancient times. Her claims overlap with the claims – partly or wholly – of Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines… and just recently, Indonesia.

Natuna Island

Natuna Island

China insists that the Natuna Islands fall within the controversial nine-dash line, which arbitrarily delineates the waters she’s claiming; therefore, she has sovereignty over them. But the Natunas are within Indonesia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Up until now, nobody had disputed Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natunas, which gave Indonesia a good enough reason to stay out of the territorial disputes among the six South China Sea claimants. Not anymore.

Recently, it was reported that Indonesia was beefing up her air presence along the South China Sea. The report said that Indonesia was upgrading Ranai airbase on the Riau Islands, which is near the Natunas, so that it could accommodate Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft. In addition, four Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters are being deployed to Ranai airbase.

Miyako Channel

Yonaguni Island

Yonaguni Island

It is interesting to note that Japan is planning to militarize Yonaguni Island by installing a military lookout station. It is 93 miles southeast of the disputed Senkaku Islands and 148 miles southwest of Miyako Island. “It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements,” said a Japanese defense expert.

Map of Miyako and Shimoji Islands

Map of Miyako and Shimoji Islands

In addition to the Yonaguni lookout station, Japan is also planning to convert the civilian airport at Shimoji Island to military use. Shimoji is adjacent to the strategic Miyako Island, which is 124 miles southeast of Senkaku Island. Between Miyako and Okinawa Island lies the 161-mile-wide Miyako Channel, which connects the East China Sea to the Philippine Sea. This is a major chokepoint to the Pacific Ocean.

Bashi and Ballintang Channels

Batanes Islands in between Bashi and Ballintang Channels

Batanes Islands in between Bashi and Ballintang Channels

According to a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, five military camps are being considered as possible sites for American facilities to be built in the Philippines under the EDCA. One of these sites is the province of Batanes, which WSJ described as a site that offers “an excellent vantage point from which to monitor a key maritime chokepoint for any vessels departing China for the Pacific Ocean.” Batanes, which consists of several islands, is located between two channels in the 160-mile-wide Luzon Strait: Bashi and Ballintang. Batanes is about 100 miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon and about 120 miles from Taiwan.

First Island Chain

First Island Chain and Second Island Chain

First Island Chain and Second Island Chain

Whoever controls the Miyako, Bashi, and Ballintang channels controls the First Island Group, which runs from Japan all the way to Vietnam through Taiwan, Philippines, Borneo (Indonesia), and Malaysia. Prior to the signing of EDCA, the Philippines was the weakest link in the First Island Chain. Not anymore. EDCA strengthened the chain link; thus, containing China to the confines of East China and South China Seas.

Vince Lombardi once said, “A good offense is a good defense.” By bolstering the defense capability of U.S. allies – Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines — along the First Island Chain, Chinese expansionism into the Pacific Ocean is held back. Thanks to the vigilance of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines in keeping the Pacific Ocean pacific. Indeed, not only is the Pacific Ocean pacific, it’s pacified, too.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)


12 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Let us all build true peace in our hearts and minds rather than hatred, war….
    Give peace a chance to reign in our hearts forever. After all, we are all brothers and sisters in this universe…
    What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but losses the golder harvest of his soul?

    • Don Azarias says:

      Nice words, Mr. Cabanganan. But in real world, a country, like China, doesn’t give a damn. As far as it is concerned, your words are meaningless and they ring hollow.

      • pat talens says:

        Concur with you, Don Azarias. In the scheme of things, life will always be defined by human instinct not only to survive, but to survive well—often at the expense of others. There is validity indeed in that Darwin Law of survival of the fittest, manifested in peace and war of the strongest preying upon the weak, even in the waters of the world wherein the big fish swallowing the helpless, smaller ones. Our world is a tapestry gilded and dotted by countries and people of differing religious, social, political, and national agendas that create perpetual misunderstandings and wars. Even the Bible, holy may it be in its writings, is replete with narratives of conflicts and human weakness for what is immoral—because of people inherent desire to survive and to survive well, and to dominate others.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Unfortunately Mr. Cabanganan, the world that we live in is not so perfect. God must have played a cruel joke on his number one creation, for thousands of years human beings have been at war with each other mainly because of their religious belief. Just look at the Jews and the Arabs, they’ve at each others throat for thousands of years and I doubt there will be peace between these two people. The religion of Islam is raging an all out war to those who doesn’t agree with their beliefs and they’re goal is to convert every human being on this planet. The Chinese on the other hand is a different monster all together, they just want to take everything that they can get their greedy hands on and they couldn’t care less what the rest of the world think about how they are going about it. We’re not sure whether having the US Military back in our country would stop the Chinese from their world domination, but I know for certain that they weren’t doing any of these when Uncle Sam was in our country. Going on your knees everyday and asking the guy above for help isn’t going to stop the Chinese, someone with more advanced military hardware will be the only one to stop them.

  2. Pons Tucay says:

    Philippines as the 51st state of USA would not be too bad an idea if we are to stop the grand design of controlling the world by China!

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      We had our chance of being just that, but no, we wanted to be free. Free to do everything except be a successful country. It’s too late now, Uncle Sam really doesn’t want us anymore, too bad for us. Just think of all the other countries that are under Uncle Sam’s leadership, I guess we just gonna have to eat our heart out.

  3. Fernando Habito says:

    Chinese gov’t response to EDCA is temporary. At least Pres. Obama cool down the heated South China Sea troubled water during his tour.

  4. Becker says:

    Its about time to invite back the US navy and its armed forces to the Subic or Clark so we could protect our fishermen from this no good Chinese who always land grab islands. This is the only means to show our lowly fishermen that they daily life of fishing be protected.

  5. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    From the lips of present China leadership:

    “The Pacific Ocean should be kept pacific”.

    For the community of nations to believe China, let China take the challenge and lead the way to peace with its Asian neighbors based on legal grounds and diplomacy.

  6. Rex Q. Garcia ME/ CPE / PE says:

    I agree the comments of Mr. Bagos and Mr. Becker. Folks blame the pony nationalistic 12senators who voted to kick out the Americans. Also blame the late Pres.Quezon who started his nationalist pony idea that he do not need the Americans to help run our government because if the Americans are here looking at their shoulder then they could no longer scam and steel peoples money which leads the country into corruption. The are pony saying GO HOME YANKEES BUT PLEASE TAKE ME WITH YOU IN AMERICA.

  7. Juan M. Montero,II,MD says:

    Interesting that you mentioned Philippine Statehood[USA].My article on this specific subject was published by Philippine News in 1984, a year after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination.

  8. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    I think the MAP makers are to blame.

    As long as South China Sea bears the word China in it, China will never stop claiming the vast sea as its own.

    By that misnomer, who knows…Saudi Arabia someday will stake claim to the Arabian Sea.

    Iran will claim the Persian Gulf.

    And the 3rd ocean – the Indian Ocean. Guess who will stake claim on it. Of course, India!

    India will claim the vast seas within the realm of Indian Ocean as its own, as the name Indian implies.

    The world is still fortunate that the Pacific Ocean is not named China Ocean. Otherwise, the world now will be in trouble.

    Don’t tell me that the Ancestors of the Hindus, the Arabs, and the Persians did not have historical footprints on the outlying rocks, shoals and islands that now bear their names.

    But the big question is – do these countries stake claims on said seas and ocean as their possession in contrast to what China’s claim to South China Sea?

    Why not rename South China Sea as ASEAN Sea instead, for purposes of ASEAN region that really encircle the sea larger than China, in addition to ASEAN past history too that support it?

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