AMER­I­CAN VIS­ITS REEF

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.

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