It’s the hot topic recently: Spratlys. This isn’t the first time it popped up as a big issue, however. But to date, it’s at its “hottest” yet. And this latest chapter started around 6 months ago.
In the period of December 2010 to January 2011, there were reports from Vietnam that a Chinese “survey” ship was found within Vietnamese waters. Understandably, Vietnam didn’t like the presence of that ship there, thus sending it away from the area. Yet that ship was insistent in its claims that they were in Chinese waters, regardless of the fact that the area was more than 300 nautical miles away from the nearest point in China, and is around 100 nautical miles from the nearest Vietnamese coast.
In February, a Vietnamese “survey” ship then proceeded to that area in what the Vietnamese call the “Eastern Sea”, to survey the area. Yet surprise, surprise, armed Chinese ships quickly surrounded the Vietnamese ship, threatening to attack it unless it “leaves Chinese waters.” This was the similar scenario that happened with Philippine fishing boats near Spratlys in the coming months, except it’s more than 500 nautical miles from China, is well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ, and gunfire was actually heard (i.e. an attack actually happened – they carried out the threat).
But amid this heigthening of tension through Chinese actions, their official stance is quite far from it. Statements like “we must avoid taking unilateral actions” and “those involved must act responsibly” certainly fall on ears full of disbelief. It’s as if they are assuming that those that would listen would actually be fooled by their ridiculous rhetoric. What they said must be avoided, they did; what they said must be done, they didn’t.
Now with recent reports that an oil drilling platform would be enroute to the West Philippine Sea by July, it seems China are ignoring warning from the other claimants, as well as completely discarding what they have “officially” stated. The situation thus leads to many bleak outcomes: if war breaks out, it would most probably involve many countries, and disrupt live in the country today. Although looking at it positively, a long overdue modernization of the AFP is finally underway. Pending purchases of old frigates by the Navy to augment our current “fleet” of one frigate were recently announced. Although “old” (built in the 70s), the newcomers would be quite young compared to our lone frigate, a WWII-era ship.
Reports too of the Air Force looking to purchase MiG-29s and F/A-18s are considered good news, considering that our Air Force currently cannot be considered as such, due to the lack of fully-functional aircraft.
Yet this is not a wish for war to happen. Of course, peaceful means would still be a priority. With the US Navy’s 7th Fleet being augmented by elements from other fleets for increased military presence, this deterrence may sway China to avoid even more provocative actions in the region, and deal peacefully with the issue. But the “strengthening” of our Armed Forces must still not be ignored: “If you wish for peace, prepare for war.”
And a last point: the slightly different reaction of “militants” with regards to the issue. As has been noted by many already, had the US done something their reactions and protests would be swift and decisive. Some claim, that perhaps, these groups are actually connected, in a way, to China, ideologically and financially maybe. I won’t be sharing more of my thoughts on this for now, but suffice to say their relatively “weaker” and “slower” response certainly made more people suspicious of them. And I don’t know, or it’s just me, but I would pick the US at its worst (which is what the militants claim the US of now is) over China at its worst (the China we’ll soon be getting, at this rate).