The Philippines accuses China of plans to occupy more areas
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- The Philippines’ Defence Secretary said that China was looking to occupy more areas in the South China Sea, citing the continued presence of Chinese vessels that Manila believes are manned by militias in disputed parts of the strategic waterway.
Encroachment near the reefs
- It was the second hostile statement in two days as Defence Secretary repeated calls by the Philippines for Chinese boats to leave Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, located within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
- The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy areas in the West Philippine Sea.
- Chinese diplomats have said the boats anchored near the reef - numbering more than 200 based on initial intelligence gathered by Philippine patrols - were sheltering from rough seas and that no militia were aboard.
- There were still 44 Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, despite improved weather conditions.
Perfect reasons are not stated to stay intact.
- It was “completely normal” for Chinese vessels to fish in the area and take shelter near the reef during rough conditions.
- An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling and has built artificial islands in the disputed waters equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangars for fighter jets.
- They have done this before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and at Panganiban Reef, brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law.
- South China Sea is an arm of the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.
- It is south of China, east & south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo.
- It is connected by Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea.
- Bordering states & territories (clockwise from north): the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
- Strategic Importance: This sea holds tremendous strategic importance for its location as it is the connecting link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean (Strait of Malacca).
- According to the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) one-third of the global shipping passes through it, carrying trillions of trade which makes it a significant geopolitical water body.
Contesting Claims Over Islands
- Since 2010, China has been converting uninhabited islets into artificial islets to bring it under UNCLOS (examples would include Haven Reef, Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef).
- China has been changing the size and structure of the reefs by modifying their physical land features. It has also established airstrips on Parcel and Spratly.
- Chinese fishing fleets are engaged in paramilitary work on behalf of the state rather than the commercial enterprise of fishing.
- The US is very critical of this building of artificial islands and terms these actions of China as building a ‘great wall of sand’.
- Undefined geographic scope of the South China Sea.
- Disagreement over dispute settlement mechanisms.
- Undefined legal status of the Code of Conduct (COC) add to it.
- The different histories of distant, largely uninhabited archipelagos of the sea make the matter more complicated and multifaceted.
India's related stands
- India has maintained that it is not a party to the SCS dispute and its presence in the SCS is not to contain China but to secure its own economic interests, especially that of its energy security needs.
- However, China’s increasing ability to decide and expand its role in the South China Sea has compelled India to reevaluate its approach on the issue.
- As a key element of the Act East Policy, India has started internationalizing disputes in the Indo-Pacific region to oppose China’s threatening tactics in SCS.
- Further, India is using its Buddhist legacy to make a strong bond with the Southeast Asian region.
- India has also deployed its navy with Vietnam in the South China Sea for protection of sea lanes of communication (SLOC), denying China any space for assertion.
- Also, India is part of Quad initiative (India, US, Japan, Australia) and lynchpin of Indo-Pacific narrative. These initiatives are viewed as a containment strategy by China.
SOURCE: THE HINDU