THE ruling of the three-man arbitration panel on our South China Sea disputes with China has been totally useless for us, as the past seven years have proven. But worse, the suit itself which the US manipulated the Benigno Aquino 3rd regime into filing in 2012 — and even undertaken by American lawyers — has been one of the US’ biggest geopolitical blunders.
It may just pave the way for a nuclear war between the two superpowers in our part of the world.
That war would break out is of course speculative. But what’s an established fact is that the filing of the arbitration suit triggered China, Vietnam and the US’ frenzied militarization of the area, with the former especially building artificial islands with facilities that would turn these into forward bases in a war with the US over Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in 2014 said China would be willing to halt its island building in the Spratlys if the Philippines dropped the suit that it initiated the previous year. The Aquino government — or the US — said no.
Looking with horror that the arbitration suit gave China the justification to transform its seven formerly puny reefs into “unsinkable aircraft carriers,” the US moved heaven and earth — how it did this is a big mystery — to restore the Philippines as its forward-military base, through the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows the US military to use nine facilities as their platform for war all over the country.
The arbitration suit against China engineered by the Obama administration to further its anti-China campaign, euphemistically called its “Pivot to Asia,” started in 2009, resulted in the colossal debacle that gave the Chinese de facto permanent military control, through their artificial islands, of the northern part of the South China Sea, in the part of the Spratlys archipelago nearest us. It had secured the southern part when it took over the Paracel islands in 1974.
Look at the accompanying map and that is what the arbitration suit has brought upon us: Chinese military installations ranged against would-be US military installations, with us in the crossfire.
Here’s how this arbitration debacle unfolded, which has made the South China Sea so highly militarized. China and the US may just stumble into war by sheer accident one of these days.
While China had been occupying seven reefs in the Spratlys since 1988, claiming that these were within its sovereign Nansha archipelago for centuries, with its sovereignty reaffirmed in its modern laws, the Chinese built merely a small installation only on Mischief Reef in 1994. This was in response to the Fidel Ramos administration’s move to grant a US company, Crestone, exploratory rights in the Reed Bank, which China claims to be part of its Zhongsha territory (Macclesfield Bank).
That row was put behind by both countries, with tensions in the Spratlys erupting only in the form of shooing away and arrests — surprisingly mainly by the Philippine Coast Guard — of Chinese fishermen allegedly illegally poaching endangered species in the area.
Tensions between the two countries however built up right after Benigno Aquino 3rd assumed power, not coincidentally when Obama had launched his “Pivot to Asia” campaign. Aquino authorized the oil-exploration vessel MV Veritas Voyager (owned by the Salim/MVP and Enrique Razon conglomerates) to explore for gas in the Reed Bank. The Chinese shooed it away claiming the area was part of its Zhongsha.
After that, Aquino ratcheted up his anti-China stance, getting so carried away as to deploy the Navy’s biggest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which the country had recently received from the Americans, to Scarborough Shoal in August 2012 to assist the Philippine Coast Guard in arresting Chinese fishermen allegedly illegally fishing there. That was a huge boo-boo for Aquino, as the Chinese claimed the sending of the warship militarized the dispute, so it claimed it had all the right to send several of its Coast Guard ships to stop the arrest of its nationals. Aquino withdrew the warship, and a three-week standoff ensued, with vessels of each country refusing to leave the lagoon.
Aquino begged Obama for US warships to intervene. Obama couldn’t since the US is neutral in the Spratlys territorial disputes. Instead, a top US diplomat, assistant secretary Kurt Campbell, fooled Aquino’s foreign secretary Albert del Rosario by claiming that the Chinese had agreed to a simultaneous withdrawal from the lagoon. Del Rosario, without informing Aquino, according to the president, ordered the Philippine vessels to leave. But there was no agreement, only discussions for such an agreement, so the Aquino regime in effect turned over Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese, who have controlled it to this day.
US manipulators exploited the Aquino government’s embarrassing loss of an area the Philippines had controlled since the end of World War 2 to prod it to file a case in an international court to recover Bajo de Masinloc. Of course realizing that no international court can decide on sovereignty issues, the US lawyers and the State Department evolved the strategy of invoking a technical but dubious provision in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) for an “arbitration.” Retired Justice Antonio Carpio was pushed to the front as the brains of the arbitration suit, to cover up the US scheme crafted two years before, as revealed in two Clinton emails that had been leaked.
It’s a phenomenal case of mass hysteria, and a testament to US media hegemony, on par with the US claims in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it must be invaded, with the same group of countries cheering both. How could there have been an arbitration over the South China Sea dispute, which by definition means two parties agreeing to work things out, bind China, which refused to participate in it? The US and their stooges here have exploited the technicalities of the issue, with even our Coast Guard officials embarrassingly claiming they are defending “Philippine territory” covered by our exclusive economic zone.
The US and its minions have been in a state of denial. The scheme that fooled Aquino to file the arbitration suit was totally the idea, proved so wrong, of then-US State Department secretary Hillary Clinton. She had such a deep rancor towards the US Defense Department, that she didn’t bother to get the military’s assessment of the consequences of such a move.
Clinton could see only the propaganda value of the arbitration, that it would portray China as not complying with international law. She didn’t have any inkling how economically, militarily and even technologically powerful China had become, and that its people’s intense nationalism would require its leadership to take decisive action to counter the arbitration suit.
Clinton totally underestimated the Chinese, and missed the reality on the ground. The Chinese didn’t just sit on their asses condemning the arbitration. They “established the facts on the ground,” as has been practiced often in territorial disputes: i.e., a claimant strengthens its claims by strengthening its hold, its facilities on the disputed area. Israel for instance has been continuously populating the areas such as the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights that it had taken over from the Arab states during the Six-Day War in 1967 with Jewish settlers to permanently make it as theirs.
The suit, among others, would have claimed that the seven features the Chinese control in the Spratlys were just reefs, which are entitled neither to an exclusive economic zone nor even to a territorial sea. The Chinese retaliated: “Whatever you call it, we’ll turn these into islands.”
Right after the arbitration was filed, the Chinese went on a massive reclamation work to transform each of these reefs into huge artificial islands with ports, military accommodations, and airstrips long enough for military transport planes to land.
The Americans were shocked as they thought the Chinese didn’t have the technology nor the resources to undertake what is probably the biggest and most expensive land reclamation project in history, which reportedly cost at least $100 billion. The Americans forgot that defense of territory has been a Chinese top priority that they were willing to put so much resources into creating artificial islands.
China now has the biggest dredger ships in the world, with its newest one, a deep sea dredger, an excavation vessel used for land reclamation named Tian Kun Hao, the “island-builder” capable of gathering 6,000 cubic meters of sand per hour from the sea. Vietnam also rushed to reclaim land to expand its existing fortresses, but on a smaller scale. Because of its smaller resources, it transformed oil-rigs into armed outposts.
The Chinese probably would have even thanked Aquino for filing the arbitration suit. It gave them the justification for their massive island-building: from the smallest “landowner” in the Spratlys having the worst properties, reefs, China has become the biggest landowner with 1,300 hectares, triple the total area held by the other claimants.
In 2002, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) agreed to the so-called Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. That agreement called for all the parties “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations.” (Itals mine). The agreement also called for the countries “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
The Chinese claimed that Aquino’s filing of the arbitration suit invalidated the agreement, since the Philippines had not even undertaken negotiations with it, and instead brought the dispute to an international body. Thus, they had the right to do what they please on the seven reefs they had occupied, and they went on a frenzy of island building from 2013 to 2017.
The US of course could just watch helplessly as the Chinese built up their artificial islands into massive fortresses, and totally change the theater for war in the South China Sea.
As to what the arbitration ruling really involved, that it didn’t rule on our territorial and even maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea, that it didn’t even order China to do anything, read my book “Debacle: The Aquino regime’s Scarborough fiasco and the South China Sea arbitration deception.” Read closely Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo’s statement on the anniversary of the ruling: he also doesn’t say so but his is a masterpiece of deceit telling the ignorant it is so.
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Order Debacle book: https://rigobertotiglao.com/debacle/