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US: Palawan may be target of Chinese navy

WASHINGTON – China may target Palawan for a military attack to punish the Philippines for challenging its maritime claims in the South China Sea, Richard Fisher Jr., a US think tank military affairs analyst, said.

He said the presence of the Chinese frigate Dongguan which ran aground last month near disputed Half Moon Shoal off Palawan, and the five or six Chinese ships that sailed to its aid were believed to be part of stepped-up efforts to enforce what Beijing calls its “Nine-dash Line” that outlines almost all of the South China Sea, which it claims as sovereign waters.

Fisher, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, was quoted extensively by Washington Times columnist Bill Gertz on Thursday.

Accompanying Gertz’s article was what he said was the first photo of Dongguan taken by a Filipino military photographer during a flight over the disputed Half Moon Shoal that both Beijing and Manila claim as their maritime territory. The shoal sits astride a key strategic waterway about 70 miles from the Philippine island province of Palawan.

Gertz quoted a Philippine official as saying the photo showed “the bully that ran aground.”
Fisher said the Dongguan recently was upgraded with YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles, which have a range of 155 miles. It also has a new stealthy, infrared-suppressing exhaust stack.

Philippine officials do not know why the Chinese warship sailed so close to Half Moon Shoal and ended up stuck in the sand, Gertz said. But some believe its presence is part of stepped-up efforts to enforce Beijing’s “Nine-dash Line.”

Another theory is that the Chinese sought to survey the region ahead of an expected Philippines-sponsored, oil-prospecting venture that will begin this year or early next year.

“The fact that several ships were in the vicinity of Half Moon Shoal able to render assistance to the Dongguan is a testament to the overall increased Chinese naval presence in this region, but also a testament to the (People’s Liberation Army’s) command and control capabilities,” Fisher said.

“While the grounding was a major embarrassment for China that provided a perhaps unintended military reinforcement to its diplomatic bullying at (a recent regional) summit, this incident also served to highlight the increasing strategic importance of Palawan,” he said.

Jose Katigbak Star  | The Philippine Star | August 11,2012 | Article Link


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