China Would Be Favored By Gunboat Diplomacy

At least five vessels and several smaller Chinese salvage fleet boats steamed last week into a shoal off Palawan Island to rescue a People’s Liberation Army warship that ran stranded a reef while patrolling disputed waters in the Spratly archipelago in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The expedition at one point threatened to trigger a new confrontation between the Philippines and China and push the intensity of their territorial dispute to a higher notch since the start of a standoff of their vessels in April.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) entered the fight on Saturday by flying surveillance planes over the Spratlys and photographing the salvage party working to free Missile Frigate No. 560 from a reef at Hasa-Hasa Shoal (international name: Half Moon Shoal).

The Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald, which broke the news on Friday, said the 103.2-meter, 1,425-ton frigate was patrolling disputed waters when it ran into the shallows 111 kilometers west of Palawan, and that the frigate got “thoroughly stuck” on the reef. A Philippine Coast Guard vessel was dispatched to the area to monitor the Chinese rescue operations.

The Herald story followed reports that the Philippine government was  verifying other reports that China had installed a powerful radar on Subi Reef, an islet 22 km from the Philippine-occupied Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratlys.

According to the Herald, the frigate “has in the past been involved in aggressively discouraging Filipino fishing boats from the area,” in what appeared to be an act using warships to intimidate fishermen.

“The accident could not have come at a more embarrassing moment for the Chinese leadership, who have been pressing territorial claims and flexing the country’s muscle ahead of a leadership transition later this year,” the Herald article said.

Philippine defense officials went out of their way to avoid issuing offensive statements over the reef incident, and said the Philippine military was prepared to provide assistance to the wracked warship.

[In the latest development yesterday, Chinese naval ships safely removed the grounded frigate and a Chinese Embassy spokesperson said the warship was sailing back to port with minor damage].

The row over the warship spawned sensitive diplomatic issues. The Philippine government was in a quandary over whether to lodge a diplomatic protest to Beijing. If the setting up of a powerful Chinese radar station was confirmed, Malacañang officials had said, that would be a “provocation.”

Although the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was not considering a protest, its spokesperson Raul Hernandez said “we need to find out what really happened with the Chinese frigate in our territory.”

He said the DFA would ask Beijing to explain why the frigate became stuck on the shoal.

It would been embarrassing for China to accept the Philippine offer to help them out of a mess which they created by snooping into Philippine waters through their maritime patrols.

30-vessel fleet

On Thursday, after the frigate struck the reef, the Chinese mounted another show of force. Beijing dispatched one of its largest-ever fishing expeditions from Hainan Island to the Spratly archipelago.

Chinese fishing boats regularly travel to the Spratlys, which China claims as part of its territory on historical grounds but which are also claimed wholly or in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet is one of the largest ever launched from Hainan, according to a report by Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency.

Debacle in Phnom Penh

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to channel territorial disputes to a regional mediating body suffered a setback on Friday when the Asean foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh failed to issue a joint communiqué on a code conduct that would  provide for multilateral resolutions of territorial disputes.

Cambodia, the host country, blocked a consensus on a draft communiqué, which would bind China. Beijing opposes a multilateral approach to conflict-resolutions, preferring a bilateral approach, which would allow her to settle disputes individually with rival claimants. That debacle shifted the arena of resolution to gunboat diplomacy through which China enjoys coercive advantage.

Navy Monitors 79 Chinese Boats Near Shoal

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday that China has already positioned close to a hundred numbers of vessels within the Philippine territorial waters for about 124 nautical miles from our mainland Zambales, to further heightening the territorial row in the area.

Reports coming from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) were forwarded to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showing that in the present times, there are already 5 Chinese vessels within the vicinity of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on top of 16 Chinese fishing boats that have been situated 56 utility boats for their ongoing fishing operations.

In addition, it has already added 2 additional Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessels in Panatag, harmonizing the first fishery vessels.

Nevertheless, China’s foreign department refused such number of vessels in the area. It was said that it was only 20 fishing boats that were present in Panatag, the usual; number during May in past years.

Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesman, stated that China has sent the vessels while conversing with the Philippines on how to resolve tensions in the area.

At around 7 p.m. of May 21 the 5 Chinese vessels were monitored near the shoal which corresponding names, namely Chinese Maritime Ships (CMS-71) CMS-84, and FLEC 301, FLEC 303 and FLEC 310.

2 of the Chinese vessels were considered as the most advanced Chinese vessels, FLEC 301 and FLEC 303 respectively, it’s the latest addition in the disputed shoal against the 2 Philippine civilian vessels positioned in the area just to symbolize the country’s territorial ownership.

Last Tuesday, Hernandez mentioned that there were still 16 Chinese fishing vessels and that the number of utility boats rises up to 76.

“It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area,” Hernandez said in a press briefing.

He added that the Philippines even objected for these actions of China as clear misruling of Philippine sovereignty and authority over the shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Panatag Shoal or also known as Bajo de Masinloc

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed it sincere concern over these continuous actions by China that worsen the tension in Panatag Shoal in a note verbale dated May 21, 2012  that was sent to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Hernandez cited that the actions of China are also in violation of the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea, specifically paragraph 5, which calls the Parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

Phl demands pullout of Chinese vessels

Despite China’s self-imposed fishing ban it was said by the FCG reports that reached the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), that Chinese fishermen have still been running fishing in the area aside from reaping giant clams and other endangered species inside the shoal.

Moreover, the PCG report to the DFA also highlighted the 16 Chinese fishing boats in which 10 of them were inside the lagoon fishing while the 6 others were outside. It was monitored that it arrived last Monday evening escorted by a Chinese vessel.

“The increase in the number of China’s vessels in the area imperils marine biodiversity in the shoal and threatens the marine ecosystem in the whole of the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said.

He as well said that the Chinese fishermen have unlawfully scoured the area and dishonestly garnered giant clams and corals.

He said the recent actions of China are also in violation of the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2.4, which provides that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

“The Philippines, therefore, demands that China’s vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea),” Hernandez said.

China: Only 20 vessels

Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that the Philippines have taken some offensive actions in the Huangyan Island waters which in is required “China to adopt corresponding measures to strengthen management and control.”

“To our knowledge, now there are about 20 Chinese fishing boats working in that area. This number is roughly the same with that in the same period of the previous years. The way these fishing boats are working complies with the related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government,” Hong said.

On Tuesday, China said that the involvement of countries in the standoff will meet steadfast opposition from the Chinese government.   Beijing was alarmed that some countries would help the Philippines establish a minimum credible defense posture by providing the country with patrol boats and military aircraft, so as to complement the Philippines’ diplomatic initiative in dealing with territorial disputes with China.

Hundreds of dolphins invade Bataan shores

MANILA, Philippines – Three of the more than 300 melon-headed dolphins that “invaded” the waters off Pilar town in Bataan early yesterday have drowned. Locals believe they were trapped in fishing nets near the coast.

Dr. Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said veterinarians from the Ocean Adventure in Subic Freeport and the bureau conducted an initial necropsy on the remains of the three animals.

The doctors determined that the marine mammals might have drowned after failing to extricate themselves from the fishing nets or baklad. [Read full article...]