China Eyes Palawan- THE ATLANTIC
A mere 25 miles off the shore of Palawan sits the frontier of an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable struggle. Its origin lies in China’s intensifying efforts to remake the maritime borders of this region, just as surely as Russia is remaking Europe’s political map in places like Crimea and Ukraine—only here the scale is vastly larger, the players more numerous, and the complexity greater.
Moving with ever greater boldness, Beijing has begun pressing claims to ownership of more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, waters enclosed by what it calls its “nine-dash line,” a relic of the country’s early-20th-century nationalist era, when it was first sketched to indicate China’s view of its traditional prerogatives. The line has no international standing and had gone largely unremarked upon until China recently revived it. It now figures in all Chinese maps. Since 2012, it has been embossed in new passports issued to the country’s citizens.
Also known as the cow’s tongue, for the way it dangles from China’s southern coast, the line encloses a region through which roughly 40 percent of the world’s trade and a great majority of China’s imported oil passes, via the Strait of Malacca, as through the eye of a needle. An observation from the 16th century—“Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice”—still conveys the region’s maritime importance.
Residents of outposts like Palawan, which sits along the eastern edge of the nine-dash line, already feel besieged. Fishermen who enter waters that their forebears freely traversed for generations nowadays find themselves at risk in a disputed no-man’s-land. “The locals are afraid to go out to the west because there are a lot of Chinese boats—military vessels,” said Edwin Seracarpio, a 52-year-old boat owner whom I found one bright morning waiting port-side for the return of one of his crews. “The Chinese say it has always been their property.”
If China can impose its will in the South China Sea, at least five rival claimants—all much smaller, weaker Asian states—will be limited to a narrow band of the sea along their coastlines. China would gain greater security for its crucial supply lines of oil and other commodities; exclusive access to rich fishing areas and potentially vast undersea oil deposits; a much larger buffer against what it regards as U.S. naval intrusions; and, not least, the prestige and standing it has long sought, becoming in effect the Pacific’s hegemon, and positioning itself to press its decades-old demand that Taiwan come under its control. Arguably, it would achieve the greatest territorial expansion by any power since imperial Japan’s annexation of large swaths of Asia in the first half of the 20th century.
china’s expansion has long been expected. Many observers have said a new cold war, in which a rising China gradually seeks to push the U.S. military out of the western Pacific, is inevitable. Any such conflict would of course be dangerous whenever it happened, because the United States is likely to resist these efforts strenuously. But what’s surprising—and worrisome—is how the timeline for this conflict, or at least its beginning stage, has seemed to accelerate over roughly the past two years. Suddenly and aggressively, China has begun advancing its military interests throughout the region, catching its neighbors and the United States off guard.
Killing a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys
china’s main frontline opponents in the South China Sea are Vietnam and the Philippines. Analysts in both countries strongly fear that Beijing will seek to make an example of at least one of them, following the venerable Chinese adage that one kills a chicken to scare the monkeys. The question would seem to be which neighbor will serve as the sacrificial chicken; which country China will bully and humiliate as an object lesson to other neighbors that resistance is futile and decisive help from the Americans is unlikely to come.
if china is looking to make an example of a smaller rival in the South China Sea—to show that the bully will most certainly get its way, that appeasement is better than resistance—the Philippines is the other likely target. Until very recently, the Philippines stood out for its weakness. Of the country’s once-large fleet of C‑130 transport planes, for instance, only two or three still function. For 20 years, the Philippines has badly neglected its military, which was never that strong to begin with.
Beijing has busily begun changing the status quo in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. On contested islands, it is building naval piers, landing strips, and even schools for the children of Chinese military personnel. In tandem, it has used surveillance ships and nominally private fishing boats to more or less permanently surround disputed shoals and shallows. The fishing boats are outfitted with GPS and radios, and their captains receive subsidies for their role as an early warning system to Beijing about the movements of other countries’ vessels. China responds to most incursions into the disputed seas with its increasingly sophisticated and muscular coast guard, to avoid the appearance of militarization. The Philippines, like most states in the region, cannot match the capability of these vessels without using navy ships, which would look to the outside world like conflict escalation. For good measure, Chinese naval vessels often hover in the background, there to send a message and to be available in an emergency.
Manila’s counterefforts to anchor its claims to the small islands and shoals off its coast have been equally clever, but ultimately reflect desperation. Most famously, in 1999, the country grounded a rusted-out ship long ago inherited from the United States, known as the Sierra Madre, just off the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys, 105 nautical miles west of Palawan. The sailors billeted aboard the disintegrating ship literally embody Manila’s case for sovereignty over the shoal. Their survival, however, depends on the outcome of an increasingly tenuous game of cat and mouse with the Chinese navy as it seeks to interdict their resupply.
In January, Gilberto G. B. Asuque, then the Philippines’ assistant secretary for ocean concerns, greeted me in a conference room filled with large nautical maps in the Philippines’ foreign ministry. “The Chinese keep telling us to remove our boat,” he said, referring to the Sierra Madre. When I asked him whether his country is poorly prepared for a potential showdown, he replied, “Isn’t that a little obvious?” Asuque went on to say that out of necessity, the Philippines has elected to play out its conflict with Beijing in the public arena whenever possible. If China resorts to force, he reasons, the international community will likely rally in support of the embattled underdog.
The country has embraced the same philosophy in pursuing a case against China under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. The United Nations has no power to force China to comply with any ruling, but as the weaker nation, the Philippines is counting on international opprobrium—basically shame—to force China to observe a convention it ratified in 1996. “We have everything to gain, and nothing to lose,” Harry Roque, a law professor at the University of the Philippines who helped persuade the government to pursue its case against China, told me.
At Oyster Bay, on Palawan’s west-central coast, the Filipino government recently broke ground on a new naval base, in the belated hopes of pushing back against its giant and determined neighbor. Just in the past year or so, Manila has hastily purchased two used frigates from Italy, a variety of attack helicopters and other aircraft, and a fleet of coast-guard patrol vessels. President Benigno Aquino III speaks often of the acquisitions, explaining them as a bid to ensure that his country has at least a minimal deterrent capability. There is no mistaking that he has China in mind.
Most important, in April, the Philippines signed a mutual-defense agreement with the United States, designed, it seems, to give Beijing pause. A month after the signing, in a speech at West Point, President Obama drove home the message behind the agreement. “Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: the United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it—when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.”
From China’s perspective, the perfect scenario might be for the inexperienced Filipino armed forces to venture the use of their newly acquired hardware, prompting a limited military encounter that would display Chinese superiority and enable China to make a new or stronger territorial claim to a few small atolls in the area—perhaps in hydrocarbon-rich waters. The United States might find it difficult to respond satisfactorily, given the stakes. To some elites in China, the opportunity to reveal the United States as an unreliable alliance partner across the Pacific is surely alluring.
If the risks of American humiliation in backing (or failing to back) a weak country like the Philippines are high, though, the risks for China are also considerable. China’s naval history since the 19th century reads like a litany of failures, first against European powers and then against a rising Japan, which decisively defeated its neighbor in 1895. Any failure to prevail over the Philippines would constitute an embarrassment that could potentially destabilize the Communist Party. And Washington might also call Beijing’s bluff, defending the Philippines if, for example, China tried to evict the Filipino soldiers from their rust-bucket outpost, the Sierra Madre. This might reveal China, instead, to be the paper tiger.
Splitting Palawan into 3 provinces may benefit China
'If China wants a military base on Palawan, mining rights, or fishing rights, after breakup it would have multiple officials with whom it can negotiate or bribe, playing one against the other,' says Europe-based analyst Anders Corr
PALAWAN, Philippines – A top international political risk analyst warned Saturday, November 17, that the move to split Palawan into 3 provinces would end up benefitting China's territorial expansion move.
"China would likely welcome the breakup of Palawan, because the country sees the Philippine province as having important strategic military and resource uses," Europe-based analyst Anders Corr told Rappler in an online interview Saturday.
Corr, an expert in China's influence operations, said this would give leeway for China to talk with multiple local officials for possible military base expansion in the province.
"If China wants a military base on Palawan, mining rights, or fishing rights, after breakup it would have multiple officials with whom it can negotiate or bribe, playing one against the other," Corr said.
Corr also noted that the installation of 3 governors and provincial police chiefs, in addition to the President in Manila, would serve as China's "points of entry."
"All these officials are potential points of failure, with the weakest link of the chain, when broken, letting in drugs, immigrants, or resource extraction from China, legal or illegal," he added.
With China "becoming so powerful in Southeast Asia that in order to resist, democracies need to centralize, not decentralize, their power," Corr said the Philippines needs allies like the United States and Japan.
"China already grabbed Johnson South Reef in 1988, Mischief Reef in 1995, and Scarborough Shoal in 2012. These are all outrageous actions by China that the world largely ignored because the US took no action," he said.
He emphasized the country can't count on "provinces that break apart and make themselves vulnerable to influence, infiltration or even takeover by a China that is increasingly made to feel welcome in Manila."
Instead, he stressed that what Palawan needs to have its own strong defenses against China is "a single strong and democratic governor who can help mobilize the entire island in its own defense."
"It's an important issue. Where goes Palawan goes the world. If Palawan falls to China, the rest of us will then have to confront a stronger and more arrogant China. Giving into a bully only emboldens the bully to take more," he added.
Corr said this island province that sits near the Western Philippine Sea "should ideally have military bases that include allied forces from the US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand," and "should also welcome democratic allied military bases, and fully-stocked AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) bases."
"It should have a strong national guard, as states have in the US. These national guard units provide additional protection against invasion beyond national military forces," he added.
The international conflict expert cited Japan and South Korea as examples, with both having such "tripwire" forces as protection from China and North Korea. Poland, meanwhile, offered the US $2 billion in September to deploy a permanent military base in the country – to be named "Fort Trump" – as protection against Russia.
'Right to own guns'
To defend themselves, he suggested that Palawan citizens should be allowed to own guns.
"Citizens on Palawan should have a right to own guns to protect themselves and their families. These are basic rights enjoyed in the US, Switzerland, and in other democracies that keep our countries democratic and free," he said.
"Palawan and other provinces in the Philippines need these strong rights and protections to keep their democracy safe."
Bill for final reading
Oppositionists maintained that "creating 3 smaller provinces out of Palawan does not guarantee progress to each smaller unit," as claimed by local officials who are pushing for the division.
"If the Senate's main purpose is good legislation, they're about to pass a bad one," said Save Palawan Movement campaigner Cynthia Sumagaysay, referring to the bill. The group claimed that the bill is lacking in "genuine and proper public consultation" and unconstitutional for excluding Puerto Princesa City residents in the plebiscite in 2020.
Pro-division officials, however, are positive that the measure would get approved in the Senate's final reading, and eventually be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
10 Reasons Philippines Shouldn't Let China Take Over Palawan
In a press conference, China has confirmed sending vessels to Quirino (Jackson) Atoll. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei stressed "that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands including Wufang Jiao and the adjacent waters." Wufang Jiao is what they call the coral reef that is very well within the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of the Philippines.
Quirino Atoll of the Kalayaan Island Group is part of the contested territory in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. The area has been constituted as a “distinct and separate municipality of the Province of Palawan” in Presidential Decree No. 1596 in 1978.
The area's remarkable amount of biological diversity, abundance in oil and natural gas, and strategic maritime link and international sea-lanes have all become factors in the territorial dispute involving seven sovereign states, namely: People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Of the aforementioned countries, China has been the most assertive in claiming the territory. They have even went as far as creating forts, runways, partrol stations in the various Philippine reefs and shoals just to claim these lands.
And here are 10 reasons why our country should claim what's ours and not let foreigners take over our natural wonders:
1) Palawan was where the first Filipino once lived
Archaeological evidence of the earliest Homo sapiens in the Philippines were found in a cave in Lipuun Point in Quezon, Palawan. Named after the large-footed bird that frequent the cave, the Tabon Cave is believed to be populated by peoples (possibly from more than 50,000 years ago) that lived even before the generation of the human fossils (22,000 - 23,000 years old) found there.
Known in history books (and grade school history class) as the fossil of the "Tabon Man of Palawan," the set is actually from three individuals, one of which is that of a female. The discovery was made by a National Museum team headed by the late Dr. Robert B. Fox.
2) It is the country's largest province
Palawan has a land area of more than 1.7 million hectares. This includes the long and narrow Palawan Island, the Calamianes Group of Islands (northeast), Durangan Island (westernmost part), Balabac Island (southern tip), Cuyo Islands, and the disputed Spratly Islands.
3) Palawan is the number 1 island in the world
Condé Nast Traveler said so.
Palawan placed first in the Top 30 Islands of the World Category in both in the 2014 and 2015 Readers' Choice Awards of US-based luxury and lifestyle travel magazine. It beat the US Virgin Islands in the Carribean, the picturesque landscape of Santorini in Greece, and even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
4) It is "sheer perfection" and the "most beautiful in the world"
This time, it's The Huffington Post that said such praise in November 2014.
Huff Post Associate Lifestyle Editor Carly Ledbetter praised the island's "beautiful blue water" mixing with "emerald green" and the "mountains that appear to rise up from the ocean."
5) Palawan's Puerto Princesa Underground River is one of the New7Wonders of Nature (2012)
Also reputed as the world's longest underground river, it features a river that winds through an intricate system of caves before flowing into the South China Sea.
6) El Nido Resorts is the recipient of the 2014 Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award.
It even took the plum away from Orange County, a coffee plantation resort in India and title-holder from 2009 to 2013.
The other resorts that it bested in the aforementioned category of the 21st Annual World Travel Awards are a wellness and spa resort in East Bali, Indonesia; a community-based tourism enterprise in Southern Thailand; a unique ethno-musical festival in the mythical island of Borneo; a holistic resort in Thailand; Cambodia's first luxury private island resort; and a repurposed mountain tribal village in India.
7) It's one of the best value travel destinations.
And it was THE Lonely Planet that made the claim.
The other places that made it to the list are Greek Islands, the southern part of Italy, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Portugal, Fiji, Mexico, Karnataka in India, and Ethiopia.
8) Palawan is the home of the world's largest bukayo.
Barangay Ipilan in Brooke's Point, Palawan celebrated their first-ever Bukayo Festival with a bang during the 2nd weekend of February 2014.
The residents shared what could possibly be the world's largest bukayo with a diameter of27.10 feet with the hopes of getting a title at the Guinness Book of World Records.
9) And of the world's largest pearl
Brooke's Point has also earned the distinction of being the home of the biggest pearl in the world. Also called as the Pearl of Lao Tzu (previously Pearl of Allah) It has a diameter of 9.45 inches and weight of 14.1 lbs. The pearl was exhibited at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in New York.
10) World-renowned Tubbataha Reef is in Palawan's backyard
And was the first declared national marine park in the country.
Discovered in the late 1970s, the Tubbataha is recognized as "one of the most remarkable coral reefs on our planet" (tubbatahareef.org). The 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area can be found at Cagayancillo and 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City. It lies in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity.
Save the Philippines! What are we waiting for?