China’s moves in South China Sea


Notwithstanding the warming relations between China and the Philippines, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Secretary of National Defense voiced the country’s displeasure over China’s “very troubling” military activities in the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

“The actions of China in militarizing those disputed features are very troubling,” Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. “They do not square up with the Chinese government’s rhetoric that its purpose is peaceful and friendly.”

Lorenzana issued the statement after a US think tank, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, revealed that China “appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems, at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands.” Manila later concurred with this assessment.

“The Philippine government would be remiss in its duty to protect its national interest if it does not protest, question and seek clarification from China on the presence of weapons in the Spratlys Islands,” Lorenzana said.

China, it will be recalled, has claimed ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, including areas of Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines also claim. Beijing has in the past three years “reclaimed” seven underwater features as artificial islands, but these are within a Philippine exclusive economic zone, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

When Duterte won the presidency in June last year, it will be recalled, too, that he toned down the virulent rhetoric on China in an attempt to rebuild relations wrecked by the territorial dispute. He visited China
in October and brought home some $24 billon in bilateral deals, while also putting aside for the moment the verdict of The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of the Philippines.

Various high-level comments on the South China Sea dispute came after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Philippines last week. He told President Duterte that “the issue of the South China Sea is linked directly to regional peace and stability and is of concern to the entire international community.”

Still, Duterte has filed three “Note Verbale” by way of low-key protests against China’s military activities in the South China Sea.

This action of Duterte is a reflection of his avowed independent foreign policy, which means that the Philippines will adopt friendship and goodwill relations with China, Russia and other nations of the world, and the United States under President Donald Tramp, whose nationalistic inauguration speech of “America First” could mean a retreat from global politics in favour of economic goals.