Why China wants the SCS badly

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Oil-rig-982Long considered a body of water with no strategic or economic value, the South China Sea had been for millennia a “road” that nations used to trade their goods with other nations. Nobody laid claim to owning it. Except for small bands of pirates, no navies threatened the peaceful coexistence among the littoral communities and their giant neighbor, the Middle Kingdom or Zhonggou, as China was known then. Indeed, the South China Sea (SCS) was a perfect ecosystem that had thrived for a long time. Not anymore. What the hell happened?

There are a lot of things and events – including geopolitics – that contributed to the systematic destruction of the South China Sea’s ecosystem. But the most blatant act is China’s raping of the marine environment by changing the natural make-up of the islands, atolls, rocks, shoals, and sandbanks that dotted the SCS, particularly the Spratly archipelago. With China’s building of artificial islands in the Spratlys, the ecological balance in the SCS is altered forever, which begs the question: Why is China destroying this beautiful gift of nature?

Malacca Dilemma

Straits-of-Malacca-Sunda-LombokChina’s limited natural resources is driving her to go beyond her borders in search of the most important element to support her growing economy and population. Simply put, China doesn’t have enough oil and gas to fuel her economic engine and military machinery. According to the Chinese government’s forecast, her reliance on foreign crude oil this year would likely increase to 62%.

In 2015, China’s crude oil imports rose 8.8% from the previous year to 335.5 million tons [Source: China’s General Administration]. But the problem is: About 80% of that came from the Middle East and Africa through the Strait of Malacca. This is China’s Achilles’ heel. Known as the “Malacca Dilemma,” it is believed that China’s economy would implode if the U.S. blocked the choke points at both ends of the Malacca Strait and the Sunda and Lombok Straits in Indonesia.

Gloria’s folly

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomes Chinese President Hu Jintao in the latter's state visit to the Philippines in 2005. Photo courtesy of the Chinese embassy in the Philippines

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomes Chinese President Hu Jintao in the latter’s state visit to the Philippines in 2005. Photo courtesy of the Chinese embassy in the Philippines

In 2005, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo offered China and Vietnam a proposal – the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) – to jointly explore the South China Sea for oil and gas for three years. China grabbed the opportunity and even offered the Philippines low-interest loans for various infrastructure projects. All total, the Arroyo administration signed 65 bilateral agreements with China. But here’s the rub: About 80% of the JMSU site included parts of the Recto (Reed) Bank, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In 2008, the questionable deal created a firestorm of controversy. Critics of the JMSU called on the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.

The JMSU was not renewed when it lapsed on June 30, 2008. The Philippines then explored the area around Recto Bank on her own. And for her part, China increased her presence in the Spratly archipelago and began harassing Philippine fishing boats, claiming sovereignty over the region. In 2012, China took de facto possession of the Scarborough Shoal, a territory of the Philippines. The following year, she started building artificial islands in the Spratlys.

Militarization

China deploys HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles.

China deploys HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles.

Recently, China deployed surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets on Woody Island in the Paracels. The Chinese militarization of SCS had begun.

But there is one problem China has to tackle to gain de facto possession of the SCS: The United States wouldn’t allow her to control the SCS, which is one of the busiest — if not the busiest – shipping lanes in the world where US$5 trillion in trade passes through every year. It is not surprising then that China regards the SCS as a “core interest.” And just like her other core interests, Taiwan and Tibet, she considers the SCS as “non-negotiable.” However, the U.S. says that she, too, had a “national interest” in the freedom of navigation (FON) in the SCS.

U.S. President Barack Obama — who had played a pacifist hand in trying to convince China to back off – has turned around to challenge China’s aggressive attempt to convert the SCS into a “Beijing Lake.” Recently, the U.S. Navy conducted two FON operations in which an American guided-missile warship came within 12 miles of two of the reclaimed islands.

On February 25, 2016, the U.S. Navy dispatched a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to the SCS. The CSG included the nuclear carrier USS John C. Stennis, two cruisers, two destroyers, and the 7th Fleet’s command ship, USS Blue Ridge. The deployment of the CSG was intended to show China that the U.S. is steadfast in her position of maintaining freedom of navigation in the SCS.

Strategic alliance

Security Diamond

Security Diamond

But what has become apparent is that the U.S. has started forging a quadrilateral strategic alliance – known as “security diamond” — that would protect the interests of the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had said in 2012, the strategic alliance would “safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the Western Pacific.”

Andaman-IslandsRecently, the U.S. deployed three B-2 nuclear-capable bombers to her military base in the Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, which is within reach of India’s offshore territory, the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands, in the Bay of Bengal at the western end of the Strait of Malacca. It’s interesting to note that China had started showing maps that depict claims over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which is reminiscent of the Chinese maps showing the SCS area bounded by the so-called “nine-dash line” as part of Chinese territory.

In the face of China’s attempt to project power in the Indian Ocean, what could be timelier than the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) between the U.S. and India, which they are expected to sign in April? The LSA would allow the two countries’ militaries to use each other’s land, air and naval bases for resupplies, repair and rest.

The U.S. is also negotiating with Australia to rotate B-1 bombers and aerial tankers at air bases in Darwin and Tindal. It is reported in the news that American officials are considering an expansion of B-52 bomber missions and positioning more U.S. military aircraft close to the disputed region. It would be of no surprise if these military assets would be prepositioned in the Philippines, which is now allowed under the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the U.S. and the Philippines.

And with the anticipated deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea and the recent rapprochement between South Korea and Japan, two of the U.S. major allies in Asia-Pacific, the envisioned “security diamond” is coming to fruition.

At the end of the day, with all of the geopolitical posturing and China’s warmongering, it is evident why China wants the SCS badly: she is in dire need of oil.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)


6 Responses. Have your say.

  1. China screwed herself.Good fo the bully and Gloria should be hanged by the foot

  2. Emil De Guzman says:

    The deployment of military armaments and landing strips is tantamount to declaring the Spratly shoals as China’s territory that they will defend and protect. It is already a declaration of war that any intrusion will be met by force. The US role gives cover to not recognize any territorial stake over the West Philippine Sea. For the Philippines it is a standoff meanwhile China will further their ambitions to militarize then begin the oil exploration. Nothing is stopping them yet the Philippine government with a weak navy and military can only watch helplessly as China plunders and conquers all the spoils. The question is the US willing to go to war for the Philippines and flank them in an armed conflict. Is the Philippines willing to engage China or will it just stay passive and let the Chinese fulfill their control.

  3. Bernard Rsyel says:

    We need to strengthen our Armed Forces and start training volunteers to be stationed in West Philippine Sea back up by suicide commandos…
    We became a lame duck by the Chinese aggression
    We should act now !!!

  4. Mac Flores Jr says:

    YES, CHINA UNDOUBTEDLY NEEDS OIL. BUT ON TOP OF OIL, CHINA NEEDS RECOGNITION AS A SUPER POWER TOO…BUT UNFORTUNATELY IN A ROGUE WAY.

    The longer the wait on the decision by the Arbitral Tribunal on the maritime dispute between the PHL and CHINA, the more CHINA will grab and possess lands and body of waters in the disputed Pacific seas.

    Well, before it was just 2 super power rivals, Portugal and Spain, until a Pope theoretically split the world into EAST, for Portugal, and WEST for Spain to avoid overlapping claims and quarrel between these 2 Christian rivals competing for earthly possessions.

    In this present generation, there are 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the USA, who are considered to be present-day super powers.

    It seems that the 5 are rival-friendly, impliedly splitting in theory the WORLD among themselves.

    Now, four of them are at bay – watching China grabs and grabs what they can possess in the disputed Pacific Seas at the expense of other claimants who cannot prevent China from the grab, hence they eventually join in the watch too. This, while the world expects a long-awaited decision.

    I believe China will think twice on their bullying and grabbing if the PHL is as strong and brave militarily like ISRAEL.

    The courage and bravery of Filipinos in the era of General Luna was drowned by the succeeding ineffective political leaders nurtured by political parties who can only offer to the country mediocre leaders with questionable leadership traits, clouded as well by lies, charges of corruption, plunder, unaccounted and misused of people’s funds.

    Yet, despite these political issues majority of our ‘kababayans’ continue to elect the misfits to lead the PHL.

    What a waste in time and opportunities in order for the PHL to succeed militarily and economically!

  5. Everyone has opinions but the truth is, one bad move and all hell will break loos and that is final. The problem with us, esp. the people of the Philippines( the most Christian country in the world) have forgotten our God. We do everything ‘our way’. Nobody wants to ask God’s help anymore. Didn’t God create EVERYTHING and have control of EVERYTHING? Why don’t we ask Him for help.Let’s all pray. God loves us, even if we don’t care about him!!

  6. FE MASONG MAGLASANG in english FE MASONG DE FOREST says:

    I am going to do the will of god and i know all this things happened for Gods plan for us to follow the path he want us. I am bai filipina real maharlika blood which is A NEGATIVE. I have the power and the authority to get back which was lost for my clan as filipino citizen. I am coming soon SO BE IT.

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