4 VESSELS ASIDE FROM 28 SEACRAFT IN SCARBOROUGH
As the Philippines and the US military start today war exercises in Mindanao, China had deployed yesterday four patrol ships in the disputed Spratly islands, China’s state media said.
The Philippines, Vietnam, China and other nearby countries have conflicting territorial claims on the islands.
The ships, described by the Xinhua news agency as surveillance vessels, reached what China calls the Huayang reef in the Spratly islands.
China, thus, will now have naval presence in both the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal in what appears to be an intensified effort to pursue its territorial claims.
China continued to maintain a heavy presence in Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea based on monitoring of the Philippine Navy that showed at least 28 Chinese seacraft — including five government-controlled vessels being spotted in the disputed territory.
Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama had said aerial reconnaissance conducted recently showed three Chinese maritime surveillance ships (MCS), two fishery law enforcement command (FLEC) vessels, six fishing vessels and 17 dinghies or utility boats in the shoal area.
China last month summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to Beijing and protested a law adopted by the Vietnamese parliament that places the disputed Spratly islands under Hanoi’s sovereignty.
China and Vietnam, as well as other neighboring nations, are locked in long-standing territorial disputes over the South China Sea, including the resources-rich Spratly and Paracel islands.
Xinhua said that the ships left China’s southern island province of Hainan on June 26 and would travel more than 2,400 nautical miles on patrols.
The ships are under the authority of the Chinese government’s State Oceanic Administration and are not under the country’s navy.
China said Thursday it would resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters and protect its sovereignty — remarks which appeared to be directed partly at Vietnam.
China’s military has established routine naval patrols in the South China Sea as a matter of “national sovereignty,” defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.
“The determination and will of China’s military to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering,” he said.
China said last month it had elevated the administrative status of what it calls the Nansha (Spratly) and Xisha (Paracel) islands from a county to a prefectural-level district.
China’s state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corp. has also called for tenders from foreign companies to explore for oil in the South China Sea near Vietnam, a move Hanoi deemed “illegal.”
Tensions in the South China Sea have risen sharply recently, with China and the Philippines also locked in a maritime dispute over Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippine coast.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines all claim parts of the South China Sea.
The American and Philippine navies, meanwhile, started yesterday joint naval exercises amid China’s declaration that it will resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters.
Dubbed as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training or CARAT 2012, the joint exercise, aimed at enhancing the skills of the naval forces of the two allied states, has been seen as another effort that would aggravate what is already a strained relationship between the two Asian nations claiming jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea.
Malacanang however reiterated its preference to resolve territorial conflict with China through diplomatic avenues while veering away from moves seen to escalate tension, the Philippine government said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has advised President Aquino to “pay no heed to China’s protestations over the government’s decision to participate in the naval exercises” including those in Hawaii involving the United States, Russia and Australia.
The statement was seen as directed at the those participating in the “Rim of the Pacific” naval exercised launched by the US in which the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries will take part in.
China was not invited either as a participant or observer. “Of course they will say that, so what? Of course we would always pray for peace to prevail. But you also always think of the worst condition and prepare for it. You should not assume a peaceful world. There’s no such thing as peace all the time,” Enrile said over the weekend.
The solon, who was the defense minister of the Marcos administration, stressed that the government should always be prepared for any eventuality, whether or not the tension with China over the Scarborough Shoal or in West Philippine Seas continues.
“That is why they say, if you want peace, prepare for war. There’s no certainty of peace all the time. There’s no such thing because there isinteraction of conflicting interest and when that happens, either you surrender or raise your voice and if you raise your voice, you must have the means to back it up. If you don’t have, you’ll be like a dog — put your tail behind your legs and run away,” he said.
The matter of resolving the issue with China remains in the hands of the government and not with ally nations, Enrile said.
“The solution there is to reinforce the country’s security, fortify the Armed Forces, Air Force, Navy,” he said, adding that there were funds provided in the national budget yearly to finance the modernization of the AFP.
“But those funds were used for other purposes in the past. Maybe the previous presidents thought we would not come to this, that all the time no one will take interest in (in those disputed waters).
“We have no one to blame but ourselves. If someone took advantage of you or try to prevail over you, you have no one to blame but yourself because you did not prepare, you did not defend yourself,” he said.
Enrile expressed belief that the govermnent was taking all necessary measures to address the issue with China although he himself noted that it seemed to be taking some time.
A Palace official confirmed in a radio press briefing that American and Filipino forces will commence the annual series of joint naval exercises — Carat 2012 — from today until July 10.
The joint military exercise however will not be conducted anywhere near the disputed region of the Panatag Shoal or the West Philippine Sea. Instead, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that this year’s Carat will be held in General Santos City.
Interestingly, the visiting US military force would be paying more attention on the Philippine Navy which would be drilled in exercises seen to enhance combined interoperability capability. The local navy, it was learned, would engage its personnel in tests and naval assets operational readiness and ultimately, improve the naval defense capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines by an exchange of doctrinal and tactical best practices.
The Americans are expected to come in with modern military hardware which includes two Navy ships, the USS Vandergrift and USNS Safeguard, and a Coast Guard vessel, the USCG Waesche. Around 350 US Navy personnel and 150 US Coast Guard personnel will participate in the activity.
The Vandergrift is a 4100-ton frigate and, while the Safeguard is a US Navy Military Sealift Command salvage and rescue ship. The Waesche is a 4,306-ton US Coast Guard cutter
The Philippine Navy has earmarked four ships: the corvettes BRPs Magat Salamat and Miguel Malvar, the fast patrol craft Salvador Abcede, and the coastal patrol craft Teotimo Figuracion, and 400 personnel for the Carat.
Also, the Philippine Coast Guard has committed the BRP Pampanga and 50 personnel. The Pampanga was the PCG ship that recently patrolled the Panatag Shoal.
The aircraft to be employed by US forces include an anti-submarine and maritime patrol P3C Orion plane, and a SH60B Seahawk helicopter. The Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard will be using an Islander patrol plane and a BO-105CB helicopter, respectively.
The actual exercises will be held in the Mindanao Sea. The training activities lined up include command post exercise; diving exercise; salvage exercise; search and rescue exercise; at-sea training; cross-training exercise; visit, board, search and seizure exercise; and maritime interdiction.
Last year, the venue of the Carat was Puerto Princesa City in Palawan and the year before that, it was held in Zambales.
Moreover, this year’s exercise will include civil military operations in Glan, Sarangani. The town was hit by flashfloods last month, leaving two people dead and scores of others reported missing.
Fernan J. Angeles, Angie M. Rosales and AFP