Philip­pines voices alarm over China ‘ag­gres­sion’


The Philip­pines voiced alarm Mon­day about main­land Chi­nese “ag­gres­sive­ness” in dis­puted re­gional wa­ters as it launched gi­ant war games with the United States that were partly aimed as a warn­ing shot to Bei­jing.

Philip­pine mil­i­tary chief Gen. Gre­go­rio Cat­a­pang re­leased what he said were satel­lite pho­tos of in­tense re­cent Chi­nese con­struc­tion over seven reefs and shoals in the Spratly ar­chi­pel­ago of the flash­point South China Sea.

“We have com­pelling rea­sons to raise our voice to tell the whole world the ad­verse ef­fects of China’s ag­gres­sive­ness,” Cat­a­pang told re­porters, de­scrib­ing the recla­ma­tion and con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties as “mas­sive.”

He said this was caus­ing con­cern “not only be­cause it would de­ter free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, but also due to its pos­si­bil­ity of mil­i­tary pur­poses.”

The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China claims sovereignty over most of the re­source-rich and strate­gi­cally im­por­tant sea, in­clud­ing ar­eas close to other Asian na­tions, us­ing vague de­mar­ca­tion lines that first ap­peared on Chi­nese maps in the 1940s.

The Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Repub­lic of China (Tai­wan) have over­lap­ping claims.

The PRC has ex­panded its pres­ence in dis­puted parts of the sea in re­cent years by em­bark­ing on gi­ant recla­ma­tion work on reefs and islets, turn­ing some into is­lands ca­pa­ble of host­ing mil­i­tary air­craft land­ing strips.

In an in­ter­view with AFP last week, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino said the world should fear the PRC’s ac­tions in the dis­puted sea, warn­ing they could lead to mil­i­tary con­flict.

In ef­forts to de­ter the PRC, the mil­i­tar­ily weak Philip­pines has en­cour­aged long­time ally the U.S. to in­crease its pres­ence on Filipino soil and coastal wa­ters through ex­panded and more fre­quent war games.

This dove­tails with U.S. plans to re-build its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Philip­pines, a for­mer colony where it had naval and air bases un­til the early 1990s.

The Ba­likatan ( shoul­der- toshoul­der) war games are the big­gest an­nual ex­er­cises be­tween the al­lies, which signed a de­fense treaty in 1951 com­mit­ting each to come to the oth­ers’ aid in the event of ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion.

Main­land China Shadow

This year’s ex­er­cises in­volves about 12,000 troops, dou­ble last year’s num­ber, and of­fi­cials from both sides made un­sub­tle ref­er­ences to the South China Sea in open­ing cer­e­mony speeches at mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Manila.

“I am sure that this Ba­likatan ex­er­cise will ... like­wise zero in on en­hanc­ing our com­bined ca­pac­ity to un­der­take hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­sponse as well as in deal­ing with mar­itime se­cu­rity chal­lenges,” Philip­pine De­fense Sec­re­tary Voltaire Gazmin said.

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Philip­pines Philip Goldberg of­fered re­as­sur­ing com­ments to the Philip­pines.

“We make no pre­tence that we are help­ing the Philip­pines as it builds a min­i­mal cred­i­ble de­fence and protects its mar­itime se­cu­rity,” Goldberg said.

“Let us be clear: the U.S. is com­mit­ted to its al­liance and in the case of the Philip­pines, our old­est in the re­gion, that com­mit­ment is, as Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama has said, is iron­clad,” Goldberg added.

“At the same time, the U.S. will de­fend the im­por­tant prin­ci­ples of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the air and the sea and the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes through legal, diplo­matic and peace­ful means.”

The term “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion” is loaded in the con­text of the South China Sea, which hosts roughly 40 per­cent of all the world’s ship­ping trade.

The U.S. has re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­cern about the ter­ri­to­rial ri­val­ries threat­en­ing “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion,” which angers China as it in­sists it will al­ways al­low ships to sail freely.

Main­land China also be­lieves U.S. com­plaints on the is­sue are a way for the su­per­power, which has no ter­ri­to­rial claims in the sea, to be­come in­volved in the power strug­gle.

The pho­to­graphs re­leased by the Philip­pines fur­ther bol­ster satel­lite pho­tos from a U.S.-based com­pany re­leased in early April show­ing a flotilla of Chi­nese ves­sels dredg­ing sand onto Mis­chief Reef — an­other out­crop­ping claimed by Manila.

The 10-day war games days will be held at var­i­ous mil­i­tary bases around the Philip­pines.

On Tues­day, marines will con­duct beach land­ing ex­er­cises from a naval base on the South China Sea, just 220 kilo­me­ters ( 140 miles) from a Philip­pine-claimed shoal that the main­land has con­trolled since 2012.

Aquino’s spokesman Her­minio Coloma al­leged Mon­day that a PRC ves­sel re­cently used a wa­ter can­non to drive Filipino fish­er­men away from the shoal.

This year’s ex­er­cises will also in­cludes 70 Aus­tralian de­fense force per­son­nel.

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