Chi­nese rocket launch­ers to be dis­cussed at bi­lat­eral meet

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRISTINA MENDEZ and JAIME LAUDE – With Reuters

Mala­cañang is look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of call­ing the at­ten­tion of China over re­ports that it in­stalled rocket launch­ers on a dis­puted reef in the South China Sea.

Ac­cord­ing to pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ernesto Abella, the is­sue can be tack­led or raised by the Philip­pine panel at the bi­cam­eral con­sul­ta­tive mech­a­nism set up by the Philip­pines and China that will be launched to­day in Guiyang, Guizhou prov­ince in South­west China.

“I’m sure that will be opened up – that will be touched on,” Abella said with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

How­ever, Philip­pine Am­bas­sador to Beijing Jose San­ti­ago Sta. Ro­mana said the BCM meet­ing will fo­cus on terms of ref­er­ence, set­ting of agenda and as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion in the South China Sea, which will be the ba­sis of talks be­tween the two coun­tries re­lated to the sea dis­putes.

Based on re­ports, China has in­stalled rocket launch­ers on a dis­puted reef in the South China Sea to ward off Viet­namese mil­i­tary com­bat divers.

China has said mil­i­tary con­struc­tion on the is­lands it con­trols in the South China Sea will be lim­ited to nec­es­sary de­fen­sive re­quire­ments, and that it can do what it likes on its own ter­ri­tory.

The United States has crit­i­cized what it called China’s mil­i­ta­riza­tion of its mar­itime out­posts and stressed the need for free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion by con­duct­ing pe­ri­odic air and naval pa­trols near them, which an­gered Beijing.

Fiery Cross (Kag­itin­gan) Reef is ad­min­is­tered by China but is also claimed by the Philip­pines, Viet­nam and Tai­wan.

Dur­ing his visit in Beijing ear­lier this week, Pres­i­dent Duterte bat­ted for the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of the South China Sea dis­putes and ex­pressed hope the BCM would yield pos­i­tive re­sults.

As this de­vel­oped, the de­fense and mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments are yet again adopt­ing the so-called Os­trich pol­icy in­so­far as the cur­rent se­cu­rity devel­op­ment is con­cerned in the South China Sea.

As of yes­ter­day, both es­tab­lish­ments de­clined to dis­cuss China’s in­stal­la­tion of rocket launch­ers, toss­ing the mat­ter to the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs (DFA) to han­dle.

“I have read the pub­lished re­ports and the DFA has said they are ver­i­fy­ing the in­for­ma­tion,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philip­pines Pub­lic Af­fairs Of­fice (AFP-PAO) chief, said.

There are ob­ser­va­tions that this strat­egy to let the DFA han­dle mar­itime and ter­ri­to­rial is­sues over the coun­try’s regime of is­lands in the South China Sea has only em­bold­ened China’s creep­ing in­cur­sion in­side the coun­try’s 200-nau­ti­cal mile ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ).

Os­trich pol­icy is a meta­phoric ex­pres­sion re­fer­ring to the ten­dency to ig­nore ob­vi­ous dan­gers or prob­lems and pre­tend they do not ex­ist.

“We can help the DFA in ver­i­fy­ing this re­port,” Arevalo said.

Claim­ing al­most the en­tire South China Sea as an in­te­gral part of its mar­itime do­main since an­cient times, China has oc­cu­pied seven reefs in the Spratlys and later re­claimed these formerly ob­scure mar­itime out­crops into what are now modern ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands.

China has also built an air­field over Zamora Reef (Subi) and Pan­gani­ban Reef (Mis­chief) in the dis­puted re­gion.

China said the in­stal­la­tion of rocket launch­ers on Fiery Reef is only for de­fen­sive pur­poses, amid re­ports that aside from Kag­itin­gan, Subi and Pan­gani­ban Reefs, Beijing has al­ready heav­ily for­ti­fied the area as well as their four other ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands in the re­gion.

China and the mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) had been hop­ing to this year agree on the frame­work, 15 years af­ter com­mit­ting to draft it.

Some ASEAN diplo­mats have ex­pressed con­cern about whether China is be­ing sin­cere, or whether ASEAN has enough lever­age to get China to com­mit to a set of rules.

Some South­east Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Viet­nam and the Philip­pines, as well as the United States, have ex­pressed con­cern at what they see as China’s mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the South China Sea, in­clud­ing build­ing air strips on man-made is­lands.

Af­ter a meet­ing be­tween Chi­nese and ASEAN of­fi­cials in the Chi­nese city of Guiyang, China’s for­eign min­istry said the frame­work had been agreed upon, al­though it gave no de­tails of its con­tents.

The talks had been can­did and deep and made pos­i­tive achieve­ments, it added in a state­ment.

Chi­nese Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Liu Zhemin, in com­ments car­ried on state tele­vi­sion, said the frame­work was com­pre­hen­sive and took into ac­count the con­cerns of all sides.

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