– San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2013
As far as dark days go, July 24, 2012 is akin historically to February 18, 1932 when Japan proclaimed the state of Manchukuo as the governing body for the region of Manchuria which Japan had invaded and detached from China.
This July 24 marks the first anniversary of China’s creation of the “Sansha City” prefecture to “oversee and administer” the one million square mile South China Sea, vesting it with the power, effective January 1, 2013, “to board, seize and expel foreign ships” within its jurisdiction.
Beijing’s creation of Sansha City was preceded by a series of provocative Chinese moves against the Philippines, including the 2012 occupation of the Scarborough Shoal by 90 Chinese ships, an increased Chinese military presence at Ayungin Reef, and a Chinese general’s boastful exposition of China’s “cabbage strategy”.
The thrust of the cabbage strategy, Major General Zhang Zhaozhong explained, is to surround the Philippine territories with a massive Chinese naval presence to starve Filipino detachments and prevent reinforcements from reaching them.
What China adduces as a legal basis for its aggressive moves is a note verbale that Beijing submitted to the United Nations on May 7, 2009 which asserted China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea.
Accompanying the note was the “Nine-Dash-Line” map, originally drawn by the Kuomintang in 1947, which asserts dominion even over those islands and reefs that have long been a part of the southern Philippine province of Palawan, some 1000 miles from China. It also encompasses the Recto Bank, located just 85 nautical miles from Palawan, which reportedly contains 250 billion barrels of oil.
China insists that the Philippines is not entitled to its 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because the whole area falls under China’s “indisputable sovereignty”. In China’s view, the boundaries of all countries extend just 12 nautical miles from their coasts.
If allowed to stand, China’s “Nine-Dash-Line” claim will go down as the most brazen maritime territorial grab in history.
In contrast to China, which is threatening to use force to enforce its claims, the Philippines has advocated working within a multilateral framework such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations to resolve territorial disagreements.
On January 22, 2013, the Philippines brought its case over China’s illegal occupation of its Scarborough Shoal to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal (UNAT), which began its formal hearing on the Philippine petition on July 11.
Unfortunately, China has ignored the UN petition and insists only on bilateral talks to resolve its territorial disputes, where it can easily bamboozle its weaker neighbors.
China’s behavior in the South China Sea dispute is not that of a state rectifying borders violated by colonial rule as China did in dismantling Manchukuo and reclaiming Manchuria after the Second World War. It is instead the arrogant behavior of an imperial state, imitating the expansionist conduct of the western powers it condemned.
In the effort of the Philippine government to defend its interests in the South China Sea, it has had only one reliable source of support: the Filipino nation. Standing squarely behind the government are not only the 90 million people living in the Philippines but also the 12 million Filipinos in the global diaspora, all vowing that their Motherland will not be bullied into submission by China.
At 12 noon on July 24, Filipinos will hold protest rallies simultaneously in front of China’s consular offices all over the world to bring global condemnation to bear on China to make it rethink the cost of its aggression towards the Philippines.
(Rodel Rodis is the president of the US Pinoys for Good Governance. Walden Bello is a seated representative of Akbayan partylist in the Philippine House of Representatives.)