China tightens grip on Spratly Islands

Posted on July 21, 2012

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HAIKOU: Despite strong opposition from other claimant countries, the Chinese government has begun solidifying its hold on disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and their surrounding waters by building infrastructures and supply bases in the newly-established Sansha City.

The State Council, or China’s Cabinet, approved the establishment of Sansha, a prefectural-level city in southern China’s Hainan province, to administer the Xisha (Paracels), Zhongsha (Middles Sands) and Nansha (Spratlys) islands and the waters around them.

Chinese officials on Thursday said that maritime management has begun in Sansha as local authorities hope to enhance maritime safety there and protect the environment.

“We began maritime management there after the State Council’s decision was made,” a spokesman of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration said.

Maritime personnel are working to build infrastructure, buoy tenders, supply bases, infrastructure, buoy tenders, supply bases, light stations and radio stations in order to enhance maritime supervision and rescue capabilities, the spokesman said.

Also, maritime authorities are studying sea travel routes in the area and considering introducing new laws to regulate traffic, as Sansha will develop its own tourism industry in the future and receive more ships, the official further revealed.

In addition, the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration is now researching the disposal of waste and pollutants and the supervision of yachts in an effort to keep a clean marine environment, the spokesman added.

“We are also planning to cruise regularly in the area in the future and set up a daily cruise mechanism when conditions are ripe,” he said.

Brazen
Rep. Walden Bello of the party-list group Akbayan described China’s actions as “brazen” and accused the mainland of “robbing” Philippine sovereignty.

Bello said the Aquino government should remain resolute in asserting the Philippines’ sovereignty on islands within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“The People’s Republic of China has no right to establish a legislative prefecture that covers the Kalayaan Island Group. We must mount massive diplomatic and civil protests against a brazen move to rob us of our sovereignty,” said Bello, also a member of the House committee on foreign affairs.

History shows that China is capable of using force to takeover the islands in the disputed sea, even if these islands are within the other countries’ EEZ as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which was established in 1982. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to the agreement.

In 1974, China’s clash with Vietnamese forces over Paracel islands led to the death of at least 50 Vietnamese soldiers. Later in 1988, the fighting between China and Vietnam over Johnson Reef in Spratly Islands or Kalayaan Group of Islands resulted in the killing of at least 70 Vietnamese sailors.

First
China said it first discovered and named the reefs, islets and surrounding waters of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands. In 1959, it became the first country to set up an administrative office to exercise sovereignty over the area.

On Tuesday, China has set up an organizing committee for the legislative body of Sansha, officially beginning the formation of the government of the newly established city.

The government seat of Sansha will be stationed on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands.
Sansha administers over 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands.

Protest
The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has already filed a diplomatic protest against the establishment of Sansha.

“Establishment and jurisdiction of Sansha City violates Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan island group also known as the Spratly island[s]. Kalayaan Island Group is covered under RA [Republic Act] 9522 on archipelagic baseline of the Philippines,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

The Chinese government’s announcement came as Del Rosario met with his Malaysian counterpart on Friday to discuss the burgeoning territorial issues in the disputed area that threatened to divide the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) because of their disparate positions.

In a statement, the DFA said that the agency’s chief met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Sri Anifah bin Haji Aman who was in Manila also on Friday. Although the details of the meeting were still vague, the Foreign Affairs department said that the two senior government officials discussed “issues of common concern.”

It was not known if the two had discussed the latest developments in Sansha City.
Both the Philippines and Malaysia are claimants to the highly contested Spratly Islands.

Point person
In Malacañang, officials said Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady has been tasked to do everything in her diplomatic skills to maintain good relations with Beijing and solve the territorial disputes peacefully.

“The Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs has been in touch with the Chinese Ambassador prior to the appointment of Ambassador Sonia Brady as Ambassador to China. Very recently, Ambassador Sonia Brady was confirmed. She is now our pointman in Beijing. So the discussions right now have shifted from Secretary del Rosario to Ambassador Sonia Brady in Beijing,” said Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“So any discussions right now would not be held here but will be held between Ambassador Sonia Brady and the Foreign Minister of China,” he added.

Lacierda said Brady was in the country two weeks ago to receive instructions from Del Rosario and President Benigno Aquino 3rd about her mission to China.

“So we remain very, very hopeful that upon the assumption of office of Ambassador Sonia Brady who is an experienced hand in Philippine-China relations. We will have a thorough and diplomatic discussion of the issues between the two countries,” he said.

Lacierda said that aside from the issue on Scarborough, Manila is engaged with Beijing on several levels of exchanges.

Citing the meeting of President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday with Ambassador Ma Keqing in La Mesa Dam where “our President thanked China for extending a concessional loan to our country for the water dam project,” he said economic relations are vibrant between the two countries.

“So as you could see we have different levels of exchanges. We are not limited in our relations with China strictly on a contentious issue. We can still work together in various levels,” he said.

SONA
Meanwhile, lawmakers, also on Friday, urged Aquino to include in his much-awaited State of the Nation Address (SONA) his clear stand on how his government addresses the row with its giant neighbor.

For one, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. said that Mr. Aquino should be clear on his stand and have concrete plans of action that will address the impending problems involving trade, tourism and national security.

“I am hoping the President will discuss his plans and policy on how to proceed with our relations with China,” he added.

He said this will have a “great impact not only on our national territory, but also on our economy with China, it being our third largest trading partner.”

But Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile does not want the President to include the Scarborough Shoal issue in his SONA saying that this is a “sensitive national security problem.”

Manila Times

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