Mischievous China makes more mischief | Inquirer Opinion
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Mischievous China makes more mischief

/ 12:08 AM January 18, 2016

SOMETIME in February 1995, it was reported that China had built a number of octagonal huts on Mischief Reef in the Spratly islands group. The report was confirmed by Philippine Air Force air intelligence photographs taken by aerial reconnaissance missions that were sent to Mischief Reef by then Col. Melchor Rosales who was A-2 (Air Intelligence chief) at that time.

As a result of the findings, the government lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing.

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According to then Foreign Undersecretary Lauro Baja Jr., this was how China reacted to our protest: “Initially, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied knowledge of the occupation and establishment of structures in the Reef. When pictures of the structures and vessels in Mischief Reef appeared in the newspapers, the Chinese modified their story by saying that the structures were authorized by the local fishing authorities to serve as shelters for Chinese fishermen. Later when they were asked to direct those authorities to dismantle the structures, Beijing officials said it would be difficult to explain such a move to their people, considering that they have ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the area. Moreover, they added, Filipino fishermen along with other nationals would be later allowed to use the facilities.”

After months of huffing and puffing and exchange of diplomatic notes, an informal code of conduct was agreed upon, calling for the settlement of disputes in a peaceful and friendly manner through consultations. For a while, nothing much was heard about the Spratlys.

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In November 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin paid a state visit to the Philippines, the first ever by a Chinese head of state. One of the highlights of his stay was a musical program on board the presidential ship Ang Pangulo. Here, Presidents Jiang Zemin and Fidel V. Ramos joined in crooning popular melodies like “Love Me Tender” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

Two years later, aerial photographs taken by the PAF showed that during the Jiang-Ramos songfest, construction work on the reef did not slow down but instead proceeded at a faster clip, resulting in the construction of a 300-meter pier, new barracks, and what appeared to be some kind of command center for communications and control.

The Philippines filed another diplomatic protest demanding that Beijing cease and desist from constructing new structures and to demolish the existing buildings on Mischief Reef. Again, the Chinese denied that the structures were for military use although the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that the “repaired” structures now included a helipad, docking facilities, and sophisticated television antennae. During a bilateral meeting held in Manila, the head of the Chinese delegation not only rejected demands for the dismantling of the Mischief structures but also publicly declared that China had never offered joint use of the Spratly facilities.

Yesterday the Inquirer reported that “China has nearly completed construction of a runway and other facilities on Panganiban Reef (also known as Mischief Reef).” Just to remind us of China’s mischief, I will henceforth refer to Panganiban Reef as Mischief Reef.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, in its latest report on Mischief, says that “as of January 8, concrete covered most of the runway which appears to be nearing completion.” We must assume that anytime soon, test landings will be made on the runway. That’s a long way from the octagonal huts discovered in 1995 that were constructed to provide shelter for fishermen.

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Kagitingan Reef also known as Fiery Cross Reef. In January last year, the New York Times reported that China was building a concrete runway on Kagitingan Reef, also a part of the Spratlys. The runway, expected to be about 10,000 feet long—enough to accommodate fighter jets and surveillance aircraft—is, according to Peter Dutton, professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, a “game-changer in the competition between the United States and China in the South China Sea.”

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James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor for Jane’s Defense Weekly, said that “China’s military appear to have chosen Kagitingan Reef as a command and control center for its Spratly Islands operations.”

Last Thursday, Jan. 14, the Inquirer carried a front-page photo of two Chinese commercial jet planes parked on the Kagitingan tarmac as passengers and crew posed for a souvenir picture in front of the planes. According to the caption, the jet transports belong to Hainan Airlines and China Southern Airlines with both flights originating from Hainan Province some two hours away.

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Zamora Reef also known as Subi Reef. On Zamora Reef, which is just 24 kilometers away from Pag-asa Island, the Chinese are also building a runway and as of Jan. 8, “the southern end of the runway has been paved with concrete as has most of the runway and apron at the northern end.”

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It appears that during the last few months, the Chinese have accelerated the pace of construction in the areas that have been reclaimed from the sea. They aim to tell the world that “China is here and China intends to stay.”

By the time any decision from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the international tribunal at the Hague which is hearing the Philippine complaint on the disputed Chinese activities on the West Philippine Sea, is reached, the Chinese will have enough military facilities and equipment in the Spratlys to make it difficult for any nation, including the United States, to contest their presence as well as their possession of the island group. And by the way, China has always declared that it does not give a damn to what the tribunal says or does.

We cannot expect any new initiatives from the Aquino administration. For one thing, not once has P-Noy convened the National Security Council to discuss security issues and, at present, key Cabinet members are poised to leave even before the end of May. Much depends on the new leadership and that is why it is critical that when we go to the polls to elect a new president, we vote not simply for change, but for meaningful improvements in the lives of our people and in the security of our nation.

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TAGS: Beijing, China, Kalayaan, Maritime, Maritime Dispute, opinion, reef, spratly, Spratly Islands
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