First of a 2-part series
THE “Scarborough Shoal stand-off” in 2012 should already have totally debunked the colossal lie still believed by many of our leaders, that the US, as its defense secretary has said several times with a strange grin, “has our back,” that it will defend its little brown brother in case of conflict with China.
Former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio encapsulated several times many of our leaders,’ especially the military brass’, undying faith in the US when he said, “Without the US as ally, we will lose the West Philippine Sea.”
Carpio obviously no longer reads newspapers in his retirement years. Despite President Aquino 3rd and his Foreign Affairs secretary trooping to Washington D.C. in 2012 to beg President Obama to escort our vessels in the Scarborough incident, despite his State Department secretary Hillary Clinton’s announcement on November 2011 on the deck of a US warship anchored on Manila Bay, that the US will defend the Philippines’ maritime claims, the US rejected Aquino’s cries for help in the Scarborough Shoal confrontation, for the sake of its own national interests. These included Obama’s worry that the unimportant Philippines could risk his reelection chances months from the stand-off.
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that supposedly requires the US to smash to smithereens any nation that attacks us is a relic of a bygone era when America was the unchallenged world hegemon and, more importantly, the most powerful nuclear power, with the USSR a far second in terms of systems for delivering the bombs.
The MDT has been effectively amended to exclude China as a Philippine opponent the US would defend us against starting in 1981. That was when China put in place its Daofeng-5 missiles that could deliver its nuclear bombs to the US mainland. Any military interference by the US in the South China Sea will force the Chinese to go to war with the Americans.
Everyone, of course, knows this, except our ignorant leaders, even our Defense secretary who remarkably, so far, has shown not a bit of understanding of the SCS disputes and international geopolitics. The US will not go to war on the basis of a 71-year-old treaty.
To think the US will nuclear war with China is the height of naivete, if not stupidity. After all, its elites who control its government and its economy (which are deeply tied to the Chinese economy) and are enjoying life like no other ruling class ever has will dare risk a nuclear Armageddon.
In the game of superpowers, however, they may agree not to use nuclear weapons of whatever kind, as Russia and the US seem to have done in the Ukraine proxy war. In that case, we will be the Ukraine of Asia, for a shoal we had not even remembered to formally claim until 2009. Now, do we really want that?
Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc to us) is just 330 kilometers to Zambales’ shores, to Subic Bay, where the hegemon had, up to 1991, a huge military base, from which together with Clark Airbase it tried to bomb to back to the Stone age Third World countries Vietnam and Cambodia. US jet fighters used its lagoon both as a firing range for its cannons and air-to-surface missiles and, for its bombers, as a dumping ground for unused bombs after they returned from their mass-killing sorties to Vietnam and Cambodia.
I’ve explained in many columns and in my book “Debacle” that Aquino 3rd was maneuvered into confronting China at Scarborough Shoal but bungled it so much so that he practically handed over to the Chinese a land territory that is the closest to the Philippines.
The US, however, betrayed the Philippines, and this fact is recognized by all analysts who do not have a Yellow filtering device.
With Aquino’s missteps six weeks into the standoff, the US, fearing a confrontation with China, through one of its top diplomats, Assistant State Secretary Kurt Campbell, lied to Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia that he had reached an agreement with China for a simultaneous withdrawal of Filipino and Chinese vessels from the shoal.
Cuisia relayed the fake news to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who in turn told Aquino — both of whom believed Campbell. Then Sen. Antonio Trillanes 3rd, Aquino’s special envoy to China for the crisis, even claimed in his detailed aide memoire on the stand-off that he gave to me that del Rosario didn’t bother to get the president’s approval and managed to get the Navy and Coast Guard chiefs to leave Scarborough immediately.
There was no such an agreement, and the Chinese tightened their hold on Scarborough Shoal and have even started, as had happened recently, to use floating barriers to stop our ships from even approaching the shoal.
Unappreciated by our scholars and analysts, total control of Scarborough Shoal by the Chinese — which will never give it up except if we offer it a deal very beneficial to them — is of such importance that it has changed our geopolitics.
What will happen if the Chinese, feeling continuously challenged by our Coast Guard and the Navy — decide to transform the shoal into a fortified artificial island through massive land reclamation as they did in the seven reefs they control in the Spratlys? We will have a foreign military base closer to Subic Bay than Subic Bay is to Manila. Or a decade from now, imagine if China decides to turn Scarborough Shoal into a mini-Hong Kong but with a huge military People’s Liberation Army base?
Our leaders haven’t even begun to contemplate how we should realistically address the Scarborough issue and remain stuck in the past, that with US help, we can recover it.
There is another slightly different narrative that we should know in order to realize that China will never give up Scarborough, so we have to come up with other approaches to this huge intrusion on our horizon.
This narrative is in chapter 5 of a recently released book entitled “Seeing the World” (available at amazon.com) by Fu Ying, one of China’s most respected diplomats, who has been ambassador to Australia, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. She has been one of Beijing’s ranking officials working on foreign affairs, having been vice foreign affairs minister and chair of the National People’s Congress foreign affairs committee.
More important than these ranks, though, she was vice foreign minister of China in charge of Asian affairs during the Scarborough standoff. She says she “was involved in handling the incident,” a self-deprecating way to say that she probably headed the Chinse Communist Party’s task force that managed the Scarborough stand-off.
Following is her account of the six-week incident:
“On April 11, 2012, photographs grabbed the Chinese headlines that caused widespread furor among the general public.* The photographs showed a group of Chinese fishermen standing with their tops stripped off, on the deck of a boat and under the blazing sun. They were being held at gunpoint by Philippine Navy soldiers. It transpired that 12 Chinese fishing boats had been undertaking their regular fishing activities inside the lagoon of Huangyan Dao when, on April 10, a Philippine naval vessel approached. It proceeded to send patrol boats into the lagoon, harass and disrupt the fishing operations. This culminated in some soldiers forcibly boarding the fishing boats and arresting some fishermen.
“On hearing the news, China’s Marine Surveillance ships ‘Haijian 75’ and ‘Haijian 84’ that were cruising nearby, along with the fishery administration ship ‘Yuzheng 303’ that was stationed at Meiji Reef, quickly arrived on the scene to protect the Chinese fishermen. The international media reported it as the ‘Huangyan Dao (Scarborough Shoal) standoff,’ but it later became known as the Huangyan Dao Incident of 2012.
“China’s long-held position is that it has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and Shoals. Given the long-existing differences and back-and-forth consultations with its neighbors that focused on the disputed islands and shoals in the Nansha area, China made a major compromise by acknowledging that territorial disputes did exist in the Nansha area. This was done out of general consideration for regional peace and stability and in order to maintain a functioning relationship with its neighboring countries. China was also willing to shelve the disputes and seek joint development of the resources. What needs to be emphasized is that, again, this did not involve Huangyan Dao, which is not geographically part of the Nansha Islands group. In fact, before 1997** the Philippines had never staked a claim over Huangyan Dao. Therefore, without doubt, Huangyan Dao belongs to China, and there is no dispute over it.”
“Soon after the Philippine President Benigno Aquino 3rd took office in 2010, a series of reckless provocations were attempted by the Philippines in the South China Sea. This gave rise to concerns on the part of China, as it was a complete departure from the consensus built by the two countries during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“In March 2011, the Philippine military revealed a plan to spend US$230 million on repairing the barracks and airstrips on the features it had occupied in the South China Sea. Three months later, President Aquino III ordered his government to replace the international standard name ‘South China Sea’ with ‘West Philippine Sea.’ Moreover, events involving arrests and detention of Chinese fishermen by the Philippines in the waters around Huangyan Dao increased significantly as the Philippines tried to create evidence of their jurisdiction and control, with the hope that they would constitute a basis for sovereignty claims. Such provocations by the Philippines were stretching China’s patience, and the Huangyan Dao Incident on April 10, 2012, was the last straw.”
“In April 2012, the Chinese media reported on their front pages that Chinese fishermen in Huangyan Dao had been harassed and humiliated by the Philippine Navy. A Chinese newspaper published a photograph of a Chinese fisherman being taken aboard a Philippine warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to suffer in the sun, which sparked a strong public reaction in China. China’s ‘Haijian 75’ and ‘Haijian 84’ arrived at the scene on the morning of the 11th to stop the Philippine military’s attempt to detain the Chinese fishermen. The Associated Press commented that the incident was the ‘most serious confrontation’ between China and the Philippines over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs also revealed through the media that a Philippine military ship was stopped by two Chinese marine surveillance ships when it tried to arrest Chinese fishermen in Huangyan Dao. The Chinese marine surveillance ships had blocked the Philippine military vessel’s passage toward the Chinese fishing boats, and a standoff ensued.”
“I was vice foreign minister of China in charge of Asian affairs at this time and was involved in handling the incident. The incident prompted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) into emergency mode. I took stock of the situation and coordinated with other departments and agencies concerned in organizing reactions.
The first consideration was to ensure the safety of the fishermen and prevent the situation from escalating out of control. So, China called back all the fishing boats from the Huangyan Dao lagoon on April 14. This was not easy for the fishermen because most of them had taken out loans to buy their fishing equipment, meaning that leaving the fishery early would cause considerable economic losses.
“However, they were promised that they could return to the fishing grounds as soon as the security situation improved. In the meantime, we tried to communicate with the Philippine government through diplomatic channels, but they refused to hold any talks. Instead, they preferred to resort to the microphone and making irresponsible comments through the media.
“As vice foreign minister of China responsible for Asian affairs, I made repeated representations between April 15 and the middle of May through the charge d’affaires ad interim at the Philippine embassy in Beijing, raising questions concerning the provocations, but received no response… Because of these continued infringements on China’s interests and threats to our fishermen, we decided to “keep a closer watch over Huangyan Dao” by deploying marine surveillance and fishery administration ships around Huangyan Dao for regular patrols and law enforcement.”
“Among the fishing sites in the South China Sea, Huangyan Dao has unique marine ecological conditions, and the Chinese fishing administration issues limited licenses to fishing boats in the lagoon. Considering the licensed fishermen were under pressure to pay back the loans they had incurred, China decided to allow the fishing boats to return to the lagoon on May 9.
“In order to prevent further tension, I met with the Philippine charge d’affaires on May 7, informing him of our intention and calling for the Philippines to exercise restraint. We hoped that following the incident, the Philippines would learn a lesson and let tranquility and normality return to Huangyan Dao.
“Unfortunately, the provocations did not stop. Philippine coast guard ships were sent to the lagoon. They took turns in entering and leaving the lagoon to maintain a constant presence. Observing armed personnel aboard the ships, the angry fishermen became worried about their safety and tried to block the lagoon entrance with ropes to stop the Philippine coast guard ships from entering when they were switching duty.
“In Beijing, we were very concerned about the situation. Although there were large Chinese law enforcement ships in control of the waters around Huangyan Dao, they were too large to enter the lagoon, leaving the fishermen inside the lagoon unprotected. We were worried that should the fishermen be harassed again, confrontations may break out, putting the fishermen’s safety at risk.”
*These photographs that inflamed the Chinese against the Philippines were taken by the Navy for their internal reports. However, Trillanes claimed del Rosario got hold of these and gave them to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star, where international media got them. Trillanes had told me when I had interviewed him several years ago: “That convinced me del Rosario wanted to taunt the Chinese for a reaction.”
** Fu Ying was referring to the fact that Scarborough Shoal, called Bajo de Masinloc, was first officially declared as part of our sovereign territory only in the 2009 Baselines Law that President Arroyo pushed for.
To be continued on Friday