Sunday, January 19, 2014

Philippine report spies more 'assertive, aggressive' China in West Philippine Sea

A more assertive and aggressive Chinese military presence has been monitored near the Philippine garrison on Ayungin Shoal, located in the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

A confidential government report, obtained by TV5, indicates the "assertive and aggressive" stance of China could be part a renewed and possibly a more determined effort to remove Philippine military presence on Ayungin Shoal and from the whole Spratly Islands group. A dilapidated Philippine Navy Ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, was grounded on the shoal in 1999 and now serves as the barracks and command facility of Philippine Marines deployed there.

China had accused the Philippines of intentionally grounding the BRP Sierra Madre as part of what it claimed was an occupation strategy. Since then, China has made repeated demands that the ship and soldiers be removed. In 2013, Beijing offered to remove the BRP Sierra Madre at no cost to the Philippines.

Consistent demand 

Ayungin Shoal, internationally known as Second Thomas Shoal, is located 108 nautical miles from Palawan and is only 13 nautical miles southeast of Mischief Reef, where China has built a formidable garrison.

The confidential report states that China has been consistent with its demand that Manila remove the BRP Sierra Madre. It points out that in 2013, Beijing began stepping up the pressure.

On April 19, 2013, China sent a strongly worded communication demanding that the Philippine government remove the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal “but this time, they are also insinuating the removal and/or dismantling of all Philippine structures in the entire West Philippine Sea – citing the area as Chinese territory.”

“It must be noted that China has heightened its presence in the area as evidenced by the continuous sightings of Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) and People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN) vessels immediately after it conveyed its intentions to the Philippine government,” the report stated.

The increased presence of Chinese patrols in the disputed territory is particularly worrisome for Manila as the report points out the vessels may block supply routes to starve out the Philippine garrison.

"Although it is expected that the presence of CMS and PLA Navy ships will be regularly sighted in the area, the positioning or encircling of the Philippine Navy vessel by the Chinese could be an indication that China might block Philippine troops of their much needed supply and thus force the deployed soldiers to eventually withdraw in the area,” the report noted.

Aerial Surveillance photos taken in August 2013 show a Chinese Coast Guard ship, with bow number 3164, anchored off Ayungin Shoal and in full view of the BRP Sierra Madre.

Other photos show the presence of Chinese naval warships, including a frigate, and Chinese Coast Guard ships anchored off Mischief Reef.

Last May 2013, the Philippine government report said a Chinese missile armed frigate, Janghu–V class with bow number 563, was stationed close to Ayungin Shoal.

China has also maintained two to three ships near the shoal for the whole of 2013 and sent aircraft to fly over the Philippine garrison on Ayungin Shoal.

No plan to withdraw 

According to the report, the Philippine Navy has made it clear it “has no plan of withdrawing/removing the ship from the shoal.”

The Chinese garrison on Mischief Reef is capable of sustaining and supporting naval patrols in the Spratlys for extended periods and PLA Navy ships are “rotationally deployed” there.

The Spratly Island Group is a cluster of small islands, reefs and shoal covering 150,000 square miles in the South China Sea. The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei are claiming either in whole or in part as their territory.

China has built heavily fortified garrisons, complete with radar, helipads and piers, in several areas well inside the Philippine claimed territory.

Chinese media recently reported that the People’s Liberation Army had prepared an combat plan to “re – take” Pag–asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of Palawan.

Pag–asa Island is where the main Filipino community in the Kalayaan Island Group is located.

Chinese media reports added that the Chinese plan limits military activity to the Spratlys and that Beijing would not invade Philippine territories.

The Philippine government acknowledges the presence of the BRP Sierra Madre, although dilapidated, serves as deterrent to China. “The presence of the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal prevents China from controlling and ultimately taking back ownership,” the report said.

It went on to say that China is also sensitive to world opinion and if it forcibly asserts its sovereignty in the disputed areas, “it may negatively project them as invaders or the international community as it will violate the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

The Code of Conduct, signed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China in 2002, binds claimant countries to avoid any action that may worsen tensions over territorial disputes.

 Article Source: InterAksyon

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