Many years ago, conspiracy theorists claimed the US was fighting in Viet Nam in order to exploit the oil fields in the Spratlys islands.

This fact allowed the anti war humanitarians to dismiss the story that the US was there because a communist takeover of the region that would result in hundreds of thousand sent to re-education camps, die in famines, massive numbers of refugees, and maybe even genocide. (all of which was ridiculous oops actually did happen because the US left).

Well, the Spratlys are still there, and the possible natural gas and petroleum is badly needed by the small surrounding countries, but it is China who is aggressively moving into the area which they now are claiming as their own, despite previous international agreements that show that the area belongs to other nearby countries.

Here in the Philippines, there were some stories a couple years ago implying a certain lovely government official made an under the table deal a couple years ago to look the other way when China explored for energy in the Spratlys Islands.

Of course, here such accusations are politics as usual, since most Pinoys know that the lovely lady involved would never take a bribe.

But now we have a new president, so he has inherited the problem, and again we are trying to find a peaceful way to stop Chinese takeover of these islands, which are a traditional fishing area for our fishermen.  China even shot at Filipino fishermen fishing in their traditional fishing grounds. And just ignore that the islands these traditional Filipino (and Vietnamese) fishing grounds are finding nearby islands spouting the Chinese flag and brand new Chinese settlements which will enable them to bolster their claims.

China’s recent aggressive moves has the Philippines nervous, and since our Navy is aging, the Philippines even looking to buy newer military equipment from the US to be able to protect our national sovereignty.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin expressed alarm at the increasing Chinese incursions in the hotly contested Spratly Islands.

“Dumami yung intrusions. Ibig sabihin e, yung mga areas nasa lugar natin na wala tayong mga gwardya ay doon ang nilalagyan nila. In other words, gusto nila magtanim ng mga bandera nila sa ganun masabi nila sa kanila yung area (The incursions are rising. This means they are positioning themselves in areas that are ours but are unguarded. In other words, they want to plant flags to claim these places),” Gazmin said in a briefing Wednesday.

So where does the US stand on the dispute?

No, don’t defend yourself, says the US.

The “official” US line is that the Philippines needs to “use more restraint” in the matter, and be less aggressive in defending our national sovereignty, and that we should try to settle the dispute “peacefully”.

Ah yes. Do anything for “Peace in our time”.

So the Philippine response to Chinese aggression is to send them a “nasty letter”: a diplomatic complaint to Beijing.

The Philippines has also sought to place a complaint about this in the UN.

But it’s not only the Philippines that is worried about China’s moves to take over this valuable area: protests have broken out in Vietnam. And, unlike ordinary protests, this one was arranged via facebook, not necessarily by that government, (who has stopped previous anti China rallies.)

The US is worried about other issues than a few fishermen being shot at near Palawan. But I suspect that the pacifist rhetoric (albeit not the pacifist actions) of President Obama elsewhere in the world makes China feel that they can get away with stealing this ocean land from the smaller weaker countries that have a better geographic and historical claim to the islands.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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