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South China Sea Standoff
At Scarborough Shoal, Manila Expects the Unacceptable

The Philippine Defense Secretary has drawn a line in the sand at Scarborough Shoal, saying Manila anticipates but would not tolerate Chinese attempts to build an outpost there. AFP:

Manila expects China to try to build on a reef off the coast of the Philippines, the country’s defence secretary said Tuesday, adding this would be “unacceptable” in the flashpoint waterway. […]

“They encroached,” Lorenzana said of a 2012 confrontation that saw Philippine vessels displaced from the shoal. “They occupied three islands there [in the Spratlys] plus they are trying to get Scarborough. So to us that is unacceptable”.

“If we allow them, they will build. That’s very, very disturbing. Very much [more] disturbing than Fiery Cross because this is so close to us,” Lorenzana added, referring to one of the Philippine-claimed reefs China has built on. […]

He added that China tried to build on Scarborough last year but American warnings stopped them.

“The Americans, that’s their red line. Red line meaning you can’t do that there, so they [China] did not do it.”

Scarborough Shoal has long been a bone of contention between the Philippines and China, with the two sides unable to come to an understanding even after President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot toward Beijing. Although China pulled back its vessels in October to allow Filippino fishermen access to its waters, Duterte later unilaterally proposed that the waterway be declared a marine sanctuary off-limits to fishing, which was not China’s preference.  With even a provisional agreement on fishing proving controversial, it is no surprise that the larger disputes over Scarborough’s sovereignty remain unresolved.

Given the strategic significance of Scarborough Shoal, the stakes are quite high. Analysts warn that a militarized Scarborough Shoal could be the final point in a “strategic triangle” allowing China to cement its control over the sea. A Chinese military outpost there could put Chinese troops within easy striking distance of U.S. troops stationed in the Philippines, while potentially allowing Beijing to block other navies’ access to the South China Sea. For all these reasons, as Lorenzana suggests, the militarization of Scarborough Shoal was a private red line for Obama, who reportedly warned Xi about making such moves.

Lorenzana’s latest comments, then, come as a signal to Washington as much as Beijing. For all of Duterte’s efforts to improve relations with China, the Philippines still wants Washington to back up this particular red line. Given the early tough talk from Team Trump on the South China Sea, they might get their wish.

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  • Dhako

    I see we have another tendentious fiction from the usual TAI’s sophomoric school of fiction writing. In other words, this Pentagon’s stooge, who pass himself off in most days as the Defense secretary of the Philippines, is not will not be the final decision maker of whether the Americans will be invited to get involve in this Scarborough shoal or nor. In fact, what he is doing in here is directly undercutting his president by wrapping himself up with the flag, and saying in no subtle way, “that the President is not been tough with the China”. And he is doing that in the hope that the average Filipino can then be convince to rally to the Generals’s agenda, which are the people this defense secretary is speaking for.

    Moreover, no matter how much the defense establishment in Philippines agitate for some support from their old master in the Pentagon, and with the hope that the new president in the Philippine could then be brow-beat to continue the old alliance with America (while using the Scarborough shoal as excuse for that agenda) what at the end of the day is going to matter is President Duterte’s final decision on this issue.

    And in here it seems he made his agenda of being close to the China as opposed to be in bed with the old alliance with the Pentagon, crystal clear. And in that particular context, no matter how much you talk up this defense secretary agenda of keeping the US in close co-operation with Philippines defense establishment, the real deal between China and Philippines have already been signed and consummated, to the satisfaction of both parties. Which means, no mere minister can change that.

    But then again, I am sure of it, that, you will continue to talk it up this minister’s public musings in the hope that one day the US will give the “nod” to the generals (back in Manila) to do a bit of a “regime change” to the President Duterte, since has been acting contrary to what was expected from any Filipino president in so far as the Uncle Sam is concern.

    • Observe&Report


  • Unelected Leader

    Haha. The unelected regime in Beijing has been using force to steal islands and reefs since January, 1974.
    Not gonna stop now.
    Manila was foolish enough to believe them when they said they wouldn’t occupy Mischief Reef in the 90s

  • Greg Olsen

    Chinese outposts are militarily insignificant because they are indefensible in a conflict. This is all about asserting claims of sovereignty. Any rock that China claims comes with a territorial sea. The harbors China engineers do have utility for Chinese ships plying the waters of the SCS. There is some concern that China will use air defenses to enforce an illegal ADIZ, but that merely increases risks of an accidental shoot-down and escalation towards a conflict. It does not constitute a direct military threat, and were it to escalate to a military conflict, Chinese occupiers could be swept from those islands in short order. Nor could they be resupplied. Speculating about striking US bases is frankly silly. China is not going to risk war with a great power.

  • Duterte’s foreign policy towards both the U.S. and China has failed, it seems.

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