As we continue to preoccupy ourselves with debates on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and who really is responsible for the death of the SAF 44, China has been busy reclaiming the Spratly Islands and building structures on reefs considered by the Philippines as part of its exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Filipino fishermen have been driven away by Chinese patrols from their traditional fishing grounds, sometimes by ramming their small boats or aiming water cannons at them. True, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs has made a supplemental submission to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration protesting China’s unlawful creation of new islands in the South China Sea. Yet, there has been little uproar from the Filipino people. Do they not know or, don’t they care at all?
In Vietnam, the South China Sea dispute has sparked fierce nationalistic protests. The Filipino people know what China has been doing all right but many feel helpless in the thought that their country has no might or muscle to resist China’s bullying and creeping invasion of disputed waters in the South China Sea.
In recent satellite photos taken of what China has been doing, Victor Robert Lee, who reports from the Asia Pacific region, wrote that China has done new reclamations on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef and intensive construction on Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) and several other reefs, transforming them into military installations as part of its strategy to solidify its hold on the South China Sea. The bases, Lee reports, will likely serve to constrain the activities of competing military forces in the region because what China has built on the reefs appear more than adequate to support air traffic monitoring and enforcement in the event China were to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea. The Fiery Cross Reef which is more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s coastline, thus, way too far to be considered part of Chinese waters, is close to becoming a combined naval/air base that can accommodate China’s largest naval vessels and an airstrip long enough for most combat and support aircraft in the People’s Liberation Army, Navy and Air Force, reports Lee.