The Philippines should seek joint patrols with Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea to deter Chinese aggression in the disputed region, a former Supreme Court justice told reporters in Manila on Monday.
Antonio Carpio said Beijing appeared to be taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to push its presence in the energy-rich sea while stopping short of actions that could lead to armed confrontation and likely draw in the United States.
“China is taking advantage of the pandemic, of our difficulty right now,” Carpio told an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP). “It’s time to talk to our neighbors,” he said. “I think we should have joint patrols with Vietnam and Malaysia.”
Manila can expand the cooperation by including the British and Australian forces, as well as its traditional ally, Washington, he said.
“There are enough countries willing to push back against China,” he said.
He said that South China Sea islands where China has fortified defenses and installed missiles “are daggers pointed at us.”
“China is using intimidation. It is showing us that it has huge warships, fortified islands in the Spratlys. That is the strategy,” Carpio said, noting however that China also realizes that “if a shooting war starts” Manila could invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
Signed in 1951, the treaty calls on the Philippines and the United States to come to each other’s aid in times of external aggression or war. U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo, in a visit to Manila last year, said his government was prepared to honor that commitment, underscoring that China appeared to be constricting “freedom of navigation” in the sea region.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which about U.S. $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of those waters.
The Spratlys, a chain of islands and atolls in the South China Sea, are believed to be sitting atop vast mineral deposits.
Although all claimants have repeatedly agreed to refrain from moves that could inflame tensions in the region, last year, a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing vessel and left 22 fishermen stranded at sea, until a passing Vietnamese boat picked them up. A Chinese coast guard ship allegedly did the same recently to a Vietnamese fishing boat.
Last week, Pompeo accused China of deploying an energy survey ship to contested waters off Malaysia to intimidate other South China Sea claimants from developing hydrocarbon resources in the region’s resource-rich waters.
Pompeo reiterated the U.S. position that China is taking advantage of the pandemic to press its claims in the South China Sea and engage in “provocative behavior.”
Hai Yang Di Zhi 8 moves to area jointly claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia
China’s survey ship, the Hai Yang Di Zhi 8, which arrived off the Malaysian coast with an escort of Chinese coast guard ships two weeks ago, operated within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone last week, according to vessel-tracking software.
The Chinese vessel sailed near the West Capella, a drillship contracted by Malaysian state petroleum company, Petronas, in a move that escalated tensions, and prompted Washington to send the USS America and Bunker Hill close to the area.
On April 24, Hai Yang Di Zhi 8 moved north to an area jointly claimed by Vietnam and Malaysia, about 70 nautical miles from the West Capella. Vessel-tracking software indicated it was continuing its survey activities and was still there as of Monday morning.
The Hai Yang Di Zhi 8 was accompanied by China Coast Guard ships and vessels belonging to a paramilitary fishing fleet that has been known to put pressure on other South China Sea claimants and harass their vessels out of waters claimed by China.
Meanwhile, an offshore patrol ship of the Royal Malaysian Navy, the RD Kelantan, moved to the site of the West Capella on April 25, according to the tracking software.
Sen. Hontiveros: Exert legal, diplomatic pressure
Just recently, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing for an incident where a Chinese vessel pointed a radar gun at a Philippine Navy vessel.
On Monday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros also filed a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to “exert legal and diplomatic pressure” to end China’s activities in the South China Sea.
Citing her own sources, Hontiveros said that Chinese activities in the sea region had caused about 33 billion pesos (U.S. $611 million) in damage to the local ecosystem annually.
“China’s sense of entitlement to our seas has caused severe and irreparable harm to our ecosystems,” Hontiveros said. “We are not a colony, so it is now the right time to demand compensation from China.”
She said that China had damaged more than 1,850 hectares in the Spratlys during the past six years.
“If China pays the reparations owed to us, we can further improve our COVID-19 response and help more Filipinos against the disease,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
Health authorities reported 198 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 10 more deaths, taking the nation’s infections to 7,777, with a cumulative death toll of 511.
China’s music video on COVID-19 draws anger, criticism
Meanwhile, a China-produced music video aimed at spotlighting Beijing’s efforts to help the Philippines battle the coronavirus has sparked criticism and widespread angry comments on social media.
The four-minute video was released days after Manila filed diplomatic protests against Beijing over its moves in the disputed sea region, Jay Batongbacal, a Manila-based academic and analyst, told ABS-CBN news.
“Everybody knows that China, in the eyes of the Filipino people, is taking away the West Philippine Sea,” he said, using the local name for the South China Sea. “The timing is really off and the content itself … people find it rather offensive.”
The video, which was funded by the Chinese embassy in Manila, was titled “Iisang Dagat” (the Tagalog words for “One Sea”) and included lyrics written by Chinese envoy Huang Xilian. It featured, among others, Filipina politician Imelda Papin, who was popular as a singer in the 1970s.
Video footage showed supplies and protective masks donated by Beijing for front-line Philippine health workers and statements from Philippine officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte, who was shown thanking the Chinese government.
But instead of positive comments, the music video, which was posted on YouTube, gathered 162,000 dislikes and 2,400 likes as of Monday.
“This is an insult to our pride and dignity,” a YouTube viewer said. “China has been stealing and destroying our natural resources. They have taken our islands and territorial waters. Filipinos cannot fish in our own seas because big Chinese ships apprehend, harass and drive them away.”
Drake Long in Washington contributed to this report.