AMERICAN VISITS REEF
An American strategic analyst joined a group of Philippines activists who carried out a bold protest at a disputed island in the South China Sea, facing off against Chinese coast guard harassment.
Anders Corr, a principal of Corr Analytics, joined a group of 15 Philippine activists who made their way to Scarborough Reef aboard a 90-foot wooden fishing boat. The reef is part of the Spratly Islands and is claimed by China, which has been controlling the reef, located some 123 miles west of Subic Bay. Philippines and Taiwan also claim the reef.
Mr. Corr told Inside the Ring that the group was confronted by several Chinese coast guard vessels, including small speedboats and later two larger coast guard cutters during the foray. One Chinese yelled in English to the group that “the South China Sea is Chinese lake.”
No weapons were visible, and no Chinese fishermen or vessels were spotted around the reef.
Beijing has held the reef since 2012, after the Philippine navy retreated in the face of Chinese naval intimidation.
The Pentagon is concerned that China will begin building up the reef as it has done with some 3,200 acres of islands in the South China Sea over the past several years. In recent months, China has been adding missiles, fighter jets and other weapons on some of the islands to bolster its sovereignty claims.
Defense officials said China’s plans to build up the strategic reef were disclosed in construction bids for dredging the large reef, which has a central lagoon surrounded by land. Chinese plans calls for a large runway capable of handling large military aircraft and jets, along with a deep-water port for warships.
Scarborough is a major worry for the U.S. Navy because of its closeness to Subic Bay, where the Navy will soon begin deploying ships in order to bolster Philippine defenses. Manila and Washington have a mutual defense treaty, but the United States has not invoked the treaty in the clash over Scarborough.
Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, in March said he was concerned that China has made the reef the next sea area to be built up. “I think we see some surface ship activity and those sorts of things, survey type of activity, going on. That’s … a next possible area of reclamation,” Adm. Richardson told Reuters.
Mr. Corr said the Philippine activist group Kalayaan Atin Ito (It is Ours) organized the boat protest that sailed June 12.
“When we arrived just outside the ring of the shoal, the Chinese coast guard blocked us with two cutters, a medium-sized boat and two speedboats,” he said. “We fished, danced and ate near the shoal and then decided to take a swim. One set of two swimmers diverted the two speedboats while the other set of three swimmers made it to the shoal and raised a small Philippine flag.”
Chinese harassment included close passes by the speedboats around the swimmers, threatening them with propellers of their motors.
“The action galvanized the Philippine public and media, and could have strengthened the Philippines’ international standing,” Mr. Corr said.
The protest could have gone differently. China in the past has used its maritime enforcement boats to ram foreign vessels that challenged China’s South China Sea maritime claims.