• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Standoff in the South China Sea

    This undated handout photo taken by Philippine navy and released April 11, 2012 by the Department of Foreign Affairs shows Philippine navy troops inspecting a Chinese fishing vessel loaded giant clam shells after it was intercepted off scarborough Shoal which led to a tense standoff between Philippines' warship and Chinese maritime surveillance ships.

    According to press reports this morning, the Philippine navy is currently locked in a standoff with Chinese government vessels in the South China Sea.

    The Gregorio del Pilar, a refurbished former U.S. Coast Guard cutter transferred to the Philippines last year, is being blocked by two Chinese surveillance vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, which is located in an area just 137 miles off the coast of the Philippines and hundreds of miles from China.

    While on routine patrol, a Philippine vessel discovered eight Chinese fishing ships illegally seizing coral and live sharks. Subsequently, two Chinese surveillance vessels positioned themselves between the Philippine ship and the Chinese fishermen, preventing any arrest or further action. Neither side seems willing to back down as they scramble to find a diplomatic solution.

    The standoff comes amid persistent bellicose Chinese rhetoric over the South China Sea. Writing in China’s Global Times, the mouthpiece for semi-official belligerent statements, Chinese Major General Luo Yuan stated that the Philippines is facing its “last chance” to back away from its claims. Last year, the Global Times warned the Philippines to “mentally prepare for the sound of cannons” in the South China Sea.

    And it’s not just the newspapers. Much more diplomatically, China’s Foreign Ministry routinely lays claim to areas of sea bordering on the Philippines. (The Chinese barely cracked the door to a solution a few weeks ago when they denied sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, but they have since reverted to their old talking points.)

    Last week, a semi-annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit failed to produce real progress on the South China Sea, as China-friendly Cambodia—fresh from Hu Jintao’s convenient visit on the eve of the summit—did not include the issue on the agenda until late in the summit, after Philippine insistence. Then, Philippine and Vietnamese efforts to strengthen ASEAN’s position by creating a common ASEAN Code of Conduct before involving China was met with a degree of indifference.

    For the U.S., it is vital to continue supporting the Philippines, as a strong Philippine position in the South China Sea is the best way to ensure peace and prevent Chinese adventurism. After all, the cutter we provided them last year is in the thick of this standoff—without it, the Philippines would never have known of illegal Chinese fishing. Bolstering the Philippines’ flagging ability to defend its territorial sovereignty, at least to a position of self-sustainability, is essential.

    In addition, if shots are fired, the U.S. is treaty-obligated to begin formal consultations with the Philippines on how best to support it. While the U.S. takes no stance on territorial claims, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is explicitly clear that any attack on Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific” will be deemed “dangerous to [America’s] own peace and safety” and obliges the U.S. to “act to meet the common danger,” a position reaffirmed by then-Ambassador Thomas Hubbard in 1999.

    But it won’t come to that so long as the U.S. continues to reinforce the Philippines’ ability to protect its own territorial integrity and remains resolute in its treaty commitments. Negotiating from a position of strength, not weakness, will allow the Philippines the best opportunity to reach an agreeable compromise with the Chinese.

    Recently, the U.S. and the Philippines have discussed increasing U.S. ship visits and exercises, and the U.S. is currently transferring a second cutter to the Philippine navy. But more can be done. The Philippines should be provided the F-16s they want on a program that will best equip and train them in their usage, as well as the two additional cutters that it has requested, among other requested equipment.

    Moreover, the U.S. and the Philippines are in discussions on more cooperation, from potentially operating reconnaissance flights from Philippine airfields to rotating U.S. Marines through Philippine facilities for training, like they are now doing in Australia. Finally, to maintain the credibility of its own commitments, the U.S. has to reverse course and increase its own Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

    Most likely, this current Philippine–China standoff will not end in conflict. But China is becoming more aggressive with each passing day, and without agreement between ASEAN and China, these incidents will only increase in frequency and intensity. Until a diplomatic solution can be reached, it is up to the U.S. to guarantee stability in the region. And this is best done through strong support for our treaty ally the Philippines.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Standoff in the South China Sea

    1. eyedrd says:

      International experts, who are independent and impartial, have asserted that 9-dot-line has no legal basis on international standards. China has refused to bring its claims to international instances bc it is legally baseless. Therefore, China imperialists prefer to resorting intimidation and bullying the smaller countries.
      International legal experts offer legal expertise of South China sea claims
      Why Has China Been Refusing to Submit Its Bogus ‘Undisputable Sovereignty’ Claims Of South China Sea To International Court?

    2. Tom says:

      Sometimes the worst part of what the current administration is doing to our security is the impact it has on our allies. Screwing over allies is something I find particularly offensive, and is destructive in the long term. Yet the 2008 decision by the American people is doing just that.

    3. Gregg Weber says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:South_China_Sea… Now that is an unreasonable claim on China's part IMHO.

    4. Denise Roxas says:

      Chinese position on West Philippines sea ( Scaborough shoals ) are ridiculous, cannot hold water. Communist state are crazy.

    5. William says:

      A diplomatic cable released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks said China could not specify a historical document to support its claims to disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
      In diplomatic cable 08BEIJING3499 sent to Washington by the US embassy in Beijing on Sept. 9, 2008, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) official and a local scholar could not identify specific historical records to justify China’s “Nine Dashes” claim that covers the whole Spratlys and areas within other countries’ exclusive economic zones.
      MFA Department of Treaty and Law Oceans and Law of the Sea Division Deputy Director Yin Wenqiang told a US embassy political officer on Aug. 30, 2008 that “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.”
      “Yin admitted he is not aware of the historical basis for the ‘Nine Dashes’ and only mentioned unspecified ‘Chinese historical documents’ that indicate the basis for China’s claims on territory west of the Philippines,” the US embassy official said.
      According to Wikileaks, Yang said China’s claims “date back to ancient times, prior to the development of the modern nation-state.”
      “Neither MFA’s Yin nor Beijing University’s Yang could specify a historical document that indicated the basis for the demarcation of the ‘Nine Dashes’,” the cable added.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.