Good read from Raissa Robles:
Why get so riled up over some rocks under the sea?
April 23, 2012 ·
The Scarborough standoff is between an elephant and an ant – Domingo Siazon, former foreign secretary
By Raïssa Robles
Why is the Philippines quarreling with China over a reef that sinks mostly under the sea at high tide? And why should Filipinos care who controls Scarborough Shoal?
Scarborough Shoal is a triangle-shaped reef with a circumference of 46 kilometers. A 370-meter channel cuts through the reef and leads to an inner lagoon. Several rock formations jut out on the reef but only one – the South Rock – remains above water at high tide.
It is also referred to as an atoll or “island consisting of a circular coral reef surrounding a lagoon.”
Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon described the current stand-off at Scarborough Shoal between China and the Philippines as “between (two countries) the size of an elephant and an ant.”
” It’s not comparable at all,” he told me in an interview.
China recently sent an all-white patrol vessel – the Yuzheng-310 – its most advanced non-military ship in order to enforce its sovereignty over the Shoal which it started calling Huangyan Island in 1983.
The same area in the South China Sea, however, continues to be patrolled by a Philippine Coast Guard ship, the BRP Edsa 2.
According to Chinese media, over 20 Philippine-registered vessels also continue to stay there, ostensibly conducting archeological research.
Beijing has said that whatever shipwreck lies beneath belongs to them. Manila has ignored this. In a separate interview, China expert Chito Sta Romana cautioned that the situation could trigger a short but violent confrontation:
There is a potential for miscalculation.
Siazon aired the same assessment.
What if PH simply gives up the Shoal to China?
Before I go any further, I would like to raise some important points on the issue. First, what Filipinos might not realize is that this kindof tension is nothing new in the area. Second, the Spratlys Islands are different and separate from the Scarborough Shoal. While Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal are both in the South China Sea (recently baptized by the Philippine government as the West Philippine Sea), Spratlys and Scarborough are two distinct areas and not to be confused for one or the other. Third, it’s very shallow to look at the present face-off through the lens of pure military confrontation and showdown. I will explain that later.
And fourth, while only the Philippines and China are claiming Scarborough, its sole acquisition and control by China could have far-reaching implications for the region, especially for Japan and India, and for the United States.
As for the Philippines, it would mean that China would totally own an area that is only 137 nautical miles from Palauig, Zambales, but at least 500 nautical miles from Hainan Island. Hainan “administers” Scarborough and other contested areas in the South China Sea. Itwould mean China would control the surrounding seas radiating 12 miles around the Shoal and this is within the Philippines’ 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone under the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas). It would mean that Filipino fishermen who wander into this 12-mile radius could be harassed, their catch confiscated, and even arrested. It would mean that Filipino fishermen might no longer seek shelter within the reef’s inner lagoon, as they have done for centuries during sea storms. The Shoal derived one of its names from the tea-trade ship Scarborough that was shipwrecked there in the late 1800s.
How far is Scarborough Shoal by sea?
I wondered how far Hainan was to Scarborough Shoal and how near the Shoal was to the Philippine main island of Luzon. The Chinese government has been very careful not to give away the distance between Hainan and Scarborough but I’ve read it is at least 500 nautical miles. Perhaps knowledgeable experts could help me out on this. Anyway, I phoned the Philippine Navy yesterday to find out how long a ship would take – say the BRP Gregorio del Pilar – to sail from Zambales to the Shoal and from the Shoal to Hainan ( assuming the distances of 137 nautical miles from Zambales to the Shoal and 500 nautical miles from the Shoal to Hainan). I was told to divide the nautical miles by the ship’s steaming speed of 24 knots. This means BRP Gregorio del Pilar would take about 5.7 hours from Zambales to Scarborough. But from Scarborough to Hainan would take 20.8 hours.
This means a fast ship like BRP Gregorio del Pilar would take over a day to sail to Zambales all the way from Hainan – now home to China’s nuclear submarine base..
A Filipino academic who is an expert on international law cautioned me, however, that distance does not affect a country’s claim on sovereignty. The same was mentioned by Hua Zhang, the new spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Manila. He said: The Philippines asserts that Huangyan Island is closer to its territory, but in fact ‘geographical proximity’ has long been dismissed by the international law and practice as the principle of the solution of territory ownership.
In response to the Chinese Embassy statement, however, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs countered that the nearness of the Shoal to Luzon was not the basis for claiming sovereignty. The DFA said that historically, the Shoal has been called Bajo de Masinloc: In the case of Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippines has exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence. The name Bajo de Masinloc (translated as “under Masinloc”) itself identifies the shoal as a particular political subdivision of the Philippine province of Zambales, known as Masinloc. The time line I have provided later in this article will show how the Philippines has sought through the years to demonstrate its “effective occupation and effective jurisdiction” over the Shoal.
How important is Scarborough?
As early as 1999 when tension erupted around Scarborough, a Chinese international law professor at the University of Central Lancashire named Zou Keyuan wrote a piece entitled Scarborough Reef: A New Flashpoint in Sino-Philippine Relations?
Here, he noted the importance of Scarborough Shoal:
Around Scarborough Reef, marine living resources are abundant, and these are traditional fishing targets for Chinese fishermen as well as for Philippine fishermen. In addition, Chinese fishing vessels often sail into Scarborough Reef’s lagoon to collect, for example, shells and sea cucumbers. There is also an international navigational waterway near Scarborough Reef. Approximately 300 ships pass in the vicinity of the reef daily. Japan uses this route to transport 80% of its petroleum from the Middle East, and therefore regards this waterway as its lifeline.
Can a shooting war break out?
At the moment, it’s a war of rhetoric. .
An article in the Global Times of China posted the following advice: Facing this complex dispute, China first needs cool-headedness. A hasty decision may cause more troubles. Addressing the South China Sea issue is set to be a long and arduous process. This is already a geopolitical reality that China faces. China should try to seize more initiative in this process, rather than being led by other regional players.
But it added: China should be prepared to engage in a small-scale war at sea with the Philippines. Once the war erupts, China must take resolute action and deliver a clear message to the outside world that it does not want a war, but definitely has no fear of it. Nevertheless, such a war cannot put the South China Sea issue to an end. But as I said earlier, Chinese expert Chito Sta. Romana has warned of a “potential for miscalculation”.
Read the rest of the article here> http://raissarobles.com/2012/04/23/w...under-the-sea/