The local news has been following Chinese threats against the Philippines, and China is getting more threatening.

For years, China has claimed to own the Spratlys Island area, which is claimed by the Philippines, Brunai, Taiwan and Viet Nam.

These countries have insisted on international arbitration for the claim, something that China is not very happy about, because their extensive claims to the “South China Sea” includes a lot of land within the internationally recognized 200 mile economic exclusion zones of these countries.

maSpratlysp from the Inquirer

green is the 200 mile exclusion zone,

the purple what China claims they own.

So their new strategy: divide and conquer.

The Philippines is the “weakest link, so we are in their crosshairs.

However, since pushing the Philippines out of the Spratlys might make a couple other countries join her to stop the obvious aggression, China has chosen another place to make her land grab: The Scarborough Shoals.

The Shoals are less than 200 miles off the coast of Luzon, the largest Philippine island, and a fishing ground for our local fishermen. Spanish maps from the 1500’s show the area to be part of the Philippines, so there really shouldn’t be a question of who owns what. But the Chinese claim they own the area because one of their mapmakers “discovered” the area in the 1200’s.

Presumably, the fact that there were local folks wouldn’t stop the Han Chinese from claiming the area, since Han aggression against non Han minorities in China is notorious but rarely noticed in western history books.

So what has started the feud?

It’s an open secret: China is after the possible natural gas/oil reserves in the area. The are some Wikileak rumors published on ABS-CBN suggest that China’s bribes to a previous administration would have the Philippines agree to their ownership:

“This and other recent scandals involving the Chinese led to charges in Congress and media circles that the Arroyo administration had likewise assented to the Spratlys joint seismic exploration deal in exchange for bribe-tainted loans, and that the government’s attempts to get Congress to back off on inclusion of the Spratlys in Philippine baselines was similarly motivated by illicit Chinese influence,” said the memo addressed to the US Secretary of State

But now, President Aquino is cleaning up the government and has the previous president under indictment, suggesting that the Philippines isn’t going to let their land be stolen by bribes.

So instead of the “carrot”, China is now trying the stick: A Chinese fishing boat stopped by the local coast guard has led to their placing half a dozen ships in the area, making local fishermen afraid to fish for fear of harassment or worse.

China is accusing the lowly Philippines of aggression, of course.

But the headlines on today’s news is that “slip of the tongue” by a Chinese newscaster who essentially claimed that China owns the entire Philippines, something that no history book has ever claimed>

The Philippine patriots are up in arms and planning an anti Chinese demonstration. This isn’t a big thing: the left demonstrates about everything here. But China is taking it personally, and telling their tourists to stay home, putting barriers on Philippine fruit imports, and initiating a cyberwar by their hackers against our government websites.

The students at University of the Philippines retaliated with a few hacks of their own, but the difference is that every demonstration and “faux paux” in China is done with government approval, whereas here it is spontaneous.

Strategy Page has a good article on the kerfuffle:

May 10, 2012: China is insisting that international agreements do not apply in its dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal. Chinese warships entering the Filipino exclusive economic zone (anything within 380 kilometers of land) are violating a 2002 agreement by nations bordering the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal is 200 kilometers from the Philippines, and 850 kilometers from China. After signing the 2002 agreement China changed its mind three years ago and is now claiming ownership of the entire South China Sea. Today, a Chinese military newspaper repeated the claim to Scarborough Shoal and warned that China would do whatever it takes to maintain its claim, no matter who (like the United States) backs the Philippines. That’s pretty scary stuff coming from an official military publication.

The USA has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, so theoretically should be backing us. However, officials have also said they want to “remain neutral” in the dispute, which officially sends a message to China that they won’t interfere.

Translation: The Chinese know that President Obama doesn’t have the cojones to oppose Chinese aggression, and the administration’s weak response in the Chen affair only confirms that weakness. From Austin Bay points out the real implications of the Chen affair:

Chinese dissident Chen Guancheng escaped from house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Chen requested asylum. The Obama administration…denied Chen’s request….

Regardless, the affable Chen is a Tank Man everyone knows by name. He dreads torture but just keeps talking. Beijing worried that the Arab Spring would embolden China’s people. Chen indicates that Chinese dissidents no longer fear direct confrontation with the regime…(and)his fall, China faces a change in senior leadership.

China has even objected to the yearly US/Philippine military exercizes as if they were threatening China, never mind that most of these exercizes are about cooperating with the Philippine military the next time an inevitable disaster occurs here.

All of this needs to be put into perspective. China is also making land claims against India, and even went to war against the newly united communist VietNam to secure their border.

Well, India has nukes and might push back, but VietNam, which used to be a colony of China, has a long memory and might fight back. The last Vietnam/Chinese war was in 1979, and although China officially “won”, their army got their “puit” kicked by Vietnam….
But VietNam isn’t taking chances. They sent in the “big guns” to their Spratlys claim: they sent in Buddhist monks to reestablish the temples in those islands.

But Vietnam isn’t taking chances, which is probably why the US Navy also held joint exercizes with VietNam last month.

China will be “choosing” new leaders this fall, and the Chen incident, where a  human rights activist sought refuge in the US Embassy but left after the US failed to protect him and his family, shows that the president and state department are choosing not to upset China, especially in an election year.

Fravel’s article (reviewed Foreign Affairs magazine ) whitewashes China’s aggression: 

China’s communist government inherited territorial disputes with all of China’s 14 land neighbors and six sea neighbors. It has also had to manage what Fravel calls three “homeland disputes,” involving Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Piecing together much hard-to-find information, he shows that in 17 of these 23 conflicts, Beijing has offered concessions, abandoning claims to over 1.3 million square miles of land. In the other six disputes, Beijing has used force.

What is missing in Fravel’s article is that China claims everywhere the was once owned by any Chinese government as “theirs”.

Which led to one wag to point out that they claim everything because the Han dynasty claimed them 2000 years ago

While the Chinese have been coming to the Philippines since ancient times as traders selling their stuff or as pirates like Limahong robbing and pillaging the locals – there is no historical proof that the Philippines was ever a colony of China or that China ruled the Philippines or even some parts of it….

To illustrate the absurdity of China’s claim: Let’s say Italy found an ancient map that shows that the Roman Empire owned most of Europe and some parts of Africa and Asia, can the Italian government now claim these countries and territories belong to them? Governments and national territorial lines keep changing. That’s a reality every nation has to live with.

Yes, but not if you are China, and need a distraction from the growing internal unrest against corruption.

A small war with the Philippines would inflame nationalism, show China’s growing power over the USA, and let them distract the country from the economic downturn and growing dissadent challenges inside that country.

And a victory over the Philippines would give them power to strongarm the other countries who own the Spartlys, letting China grab all that nice oil and natural gas as a war prize.

After all, what do they have to lose?

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Part of this was written on her blog, Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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