Fishing for trouble
The declarations of ‘no fishing’ in the seas around the disputed rocks off the coast of the Philippines by first China, then the Philippines, has wider ramifications and the David and Goliath scenario needs careful judgement, especially by ‘David’! The big picture includes the USA’s strategic encirclement of China. Beware Philippines.
The two nations have been engaged in a stand-off over Huangyan Island, or, the Scarborough Shoal since April 10, when the Philippine authorities accused Chinese boats of illegal fishing.
While the Philippines is exploring ways of resolving the dispute peacefully, the man-talk from Manila is macho. Third-party arbitration by appealing to International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, also, the International Court of Justice, is being touted as on the cards.
On the other shore, in Vietnam, there are official protests from the foreign ministry that has declared the fishing ban invalid because it affects parts of the South China Sea that Hanoi also claims.
China has said the dispute can be best settled by the Philippines and China sitting down and make a plan to harvest the wealth together from that area – not just the fishing but mineral wealth or whatever.
While China has issued detailed notes on its historical rights to that sea area, fact is, under international sea law the shoals are within Philippines boundaries. Historical associations are a poor second in modern times where international laws are in place to regulate such different interpretations.
Harking back to take a look at Philippines-USA relations, while the US troops and bases were asked to leave the Philippines decades ago, by popular demand, the North Americans are gradually reinserting themselves back into the previously appreciated territories.
On May 15 the US nuclear attack submarine USS North Carolina was in Subic Bay in the
Philippines, for reprovisioning, poor timing or…!
The Philippine government has been vocal about the Mutual Defence Treaty that exists between the two nations, which covers, “an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties”. That’s not what China wants to hear. Nor the news released 16 May that the Philippines is to purchase two squadrons of military jets to boost its air force. It is not difficult to guess which country is to be the supplier.
The USA has pulled a lot of military capability out of Okinawa because Japan can look after any problem thereabouts well enough and those troops and ancillaries were rehoused on US owned islands in the Pacific and down in Darwin, in Australia. Besides, the US Navy has made strategic inroads in Singapore as well with the new Littoral Combat Ships as the first US military vessels permanently stationed there – though the US Navy has for many years maintained a support facility in Singapore.
Just as there is an under-the-surface debate in Australia about alliances East or West, actually Caucasian or Asian, likewise the Philippines needs to think carefully about where its future lies. There is a strong and healthy relation with the USA but if this means becoming a minor player in the big game of US-China-Russia power shuffling, there will be more than just rotting bananas at stake (Philippines bananas are going rotten at China ports because the authorities there are refusing to accept those cargoes under the duress of the recent war-of-words).