Econintersect: About 200 hundred protesters waved flags and placards at the Chinese embassy in Manila on May 11, calling for China to withdraw its ships from disputed waters at the Scarborough Shoal. The numbers of protesters were much below the estimated 1000 demonstrators and the protest ended peacefully. China reacted angrily accusing Philippines of escalating an already tense territorial following the protest. The Chinese name for the Scarborough Shoal is the Huangyan Islands. This contested land “mass” is actually a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks or very small islands with a total area including shallow water areas of 150 square kilometers. The shoal is about 140 miles away from the Philippine Island of Luzon. Click on picture for larger satellite view of Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island (Wikipedia).
Based on proximity it would seem that The Philippines would have first claim under marine law. Scarborough (Huangyan) is about 500 miles distant from the nearest China land, Hainan Island. The distance to the southern tip of Taiwan is very close to the same distance. The area has been prized for centuries as a rich fishing area. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese claim to the collection of rocks derives from a 1279 map used by Chinese fishermen. The ownership of the shoal has been in dispute for at least the past 65 years.
The bitterness on both sides has become shrill. China is talking tough. As per The Times of India report:
The People’s Liberation Army Daily, the official voice of Chinese military, has also published a commentary on Thursday titled, “Never Expect to Take Away Half an Inch of China’s Territory.” It said, “We never tolerate any unreasonable embarrassment with blind patience, not to mention that the issue matters for China’s territorial integrity, national dignity, and even social stability.
For anyone who tries to snatch the sovereignty over Huangyan Islands, not only will the Chinese government not agree; the Chinese people will not agree; and the Chinese army will not agree”.
An AFP report quotes an equally angry Philippians protester:
“Our protest is directed at the overbearing actions and stance of the government in Beijing, which behaves like an arrogant overlord, even in the homes of its neighbours,” rally organiser Loida Nicholas Lewis was quoted as saying by AFP news agency”
In another move India has, contrary to previous contrite behavior, commented publicly on this spat, signaling its intent of not keeping quiet. As quoted in The Times of India:
“Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law.”
An earlier Econintersect report “The New Tense Tango: China versus India-Japan-US” had outlined the synchronized response of U.S.-Japan-India to China’s “aggressive” posturing.
In another move The Financial Times has reported that both U.S. and India have started deploying their naval ships in international waters of South China Sea.
Econintersect had published a commentary on Robert D. Kaplan’s article entitled “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict.” When one comes to the bottom line Kaplan says it will all be about oil. He wrote that:
“The conflicts in the Western Pacific will not necessarily involve combat. Rather there may be just a series of incidents where naval vessels engage in confrontations that fall short of an actual “shooting” engagement. Not surprisingly, much of future incidents in the South China Sea will depend on how extensive future oil reserves discoveries there turn out to be.”
Carlyle Thayer of Australian Defense Force Academy has outlined seven suggestions to reduce tensions, but the high stakes brinkmanship by all actors is aggravating an already very tense situation.
The Globe and Mail sums up the situation very well:
“A shooting war between China and the Philippines seems a longshot now, just as a real war between China and Japan seemed impossible in 2010. But if Asian neighbours keep manufacturing crises for domestic consumption, one day the anger they manufacture will be all too real.”
- Protest in Philippines over South China Sea stand-off: BBC
- China criticizes Philippines on South China Sea protest: Reuters
- Dangerous nationalism on the South China Sea: The Globe and Mail
- Philippines-US war games begin amid China tensions: BBC
- US warships risk rocking boat with Beijing: Financial Times
- India steps into Philippines-China spat over South China Sea: The Times of India
- Indian navy warships to sail through South China Sea: Defense Forum Of India
- The New Tense Tango: China versus India-Japan-US: Econintersect
- South China Sea: The Center of World Conflict: Econintersect
- The United States and Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Australian Defence Force Academy