Tuesday, April 26, 2016

U.S. “Subic Pivot” prompts Scarborough build-up

          The SCMP (South China Morning Post) report on the decision of China to start reclamation at the Scarborough Shoal or what China calls Huangyan Island is a logical consequence of the U.S. “Subic Pivot” or the return of the U.S. military base to that Olongapo town authorized under the controversial EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) signed between Obama and BS Aquino in April of 2014. Since then, U.S. submarines, missile cruisers, as well as Japanese naval ships have docked at the Subic base facilities.

          The Scarborough is just 270 km from the Subic military facility and a perfect site for monitoring and, if necessary, confronting any hostile acts that may emanate from the U.S. military forces stationed there. China’s action follows a defensive pattern since the “Asia Pivot” was announced by the U.S. officially in 2011 but had already been mulled in the corridors of power in Washington since 2009. U.S. prompted provocations behind its client states - the Philippines and Japan followed in 2012 with the BRP Gregorio del Pilar arresting Chinese fishermen and Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands.

          The signing of the EDCA in April 2014 was met by China’s start of island reclamations in August of that year to include the Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs. Construction of airfields, lighthouse and other facilities have been completed in some of the islands while in others such facilities are being set up. Civilian use of the facilities has been highlighted by Chinese government but it is clear that in case of any necessity these can be easily converted to defense uses – which seems to be the message to the forces behind the “Asian Pivot”.

          In May of this year, 2016, reports of brushes between Filipino fishermen and Chinese security patrols in rubber dinghies appeared in Philippine media. Chinese authorities accused some Filipinos, Zambales fishermen of throwing “fire bombs” at them while their security patrols were conducting “governance” – a word China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs used to describe their action. Despite the hostility the Chinese security patrols maintained disciplined use of non-lethal tactics, unlike what the Philippine Coast Guard have done in the past using machine guns on unarmed fishermen.

          The Zambales fishermen unable to fish in the Scarborough area are understandably frustrated and exasperated, enough to commit such acts of defiance. About this situation I received a text from a farmer-fisherman national leader, Sonny Domingo who is also from Zambales and was approached by the fishermen for assistance. Domingo proposed some livelihood projects to the local authorities who unfortunately stopped him from pursuing the projects, leading Domingo to say that the fishermen’s problem is not the Chinese but the Philippine government authorities.

          Sonny Domingo is the chairman of KAMMPI, a farmer-fisherman national federation accredited by the Department of Agriculture. The lack of positive response from Aquino government authorities to his effort to create livelihood for the displaced fishermen made me wonder if the government is deliberately aggravating the situation to push the fishermen into further frustration and other acts of hostility. Actually, I believe government can easily ease the situation in the Scarborough just by beginning even low level talks initially – but maybe that’s too much to expect with Big Brother U.S. watching over the DFA’s shoulders.

          Sonny Domingo texted me this message, “Can you help me meet Sen. Trillanes? We need his help for our Zambales Fisherfolks re Scarborough. TY.” I suppose this message was prompted by the memory of Sen. Trillanes successfully back-channelling with the Chinese government during the Scarborough Standoff in 2012, when the senator succeeded in mitigating the negative effects of DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario’s deliberate tension-building against China. Trillanes succeeded in the lifting of a Chinese embargo on Philippines exports of mangoes to China, among other things.

          One of the strategic reason for China’s build-up at the Scarborough Shoal is said to be the strategic value of a base there against possible attempts at closing the Luzon Strait to the passage of the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy). A base at the Scarborough Shoal would be ideal to station forces, planes, ships and missiles to counter any such attempt, while monitoring the U.S. base at Subic at the same time. China’s actions are greatly determined by what the U.S. is doing around what China considers its security zone, as one of China’s generals pointed out - China has been invaded from the sea over 400 times.

          The timing of the announcement of the Scarborough Shoal reclamation and building project is reported by some analysts as a response to the impending announcement by the ITLOS (International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea) which is expected to sustain the U.S.-supported position of the Philippine government under BS Aquino. The U.S. has been leading the political and media chorus I projected outcome of the ITLOS case expected to be adverse to China’s position as an “internationally backed” decision that China should abide by (although the U.S. is not even a signatory to the UNCLOS).

          Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has not been sitting back to wait for the U.S. and ITLOS decision and claim of its “international” merit, in the past month alone the RIC (Russia, India and China) announced its consensus against “internationalization” of the SCS issue and its preference for “bilateral negotiations” between countries involved to resolve such issues. This was after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in his Moscow meeting with FM Wang Yi announced the same position earlier. In FM Wang Yi’s meeting with Laos, Cambodia and Brunei, four countries iterated the same position. All these show that it is the U.S. and its minion the Philippines that is isolated.

          In all these it is the Filipino people, represented in the particular situation at the Scarborough Shoal by the Zambales fishermen, that is suffering the ill-conceived and ill-intentioned policy the BS Aquino-Albert del Rosario of “Lawfare” (legal warfare that reeks of insincerity and malicious motives) against China and cutting off bilateral talks that is the only viable and the internationally preferred mode of resolving issues of sovereign interests. Although it would be too embarrassing for the Philippines to step away from the Tribunal case it should resume the suspended bilateral talks with China formally to give the two countries a chance to step away from the U.S. sponsored “Lawfare”, save face for the U.S. and the Philippines, and serve the Filipino people better that way.

          The next administration after the elections should take this path. ###

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