China’s reef expansion work in the South China Sea may create inhabited islands that declare allegiance to the government in Beijing, bringing China’s military closer to the Philippines, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said.
Describing such a scenario as “thinking out loud,” Aquino nonetheless said that if the reefs were built up enough and populated, “somebody might say: ‘We are a new country.’”
Taiwan, China and the Philippines all claim parts of the South China Sea, a body of water that hosts some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Philippines has accused China of undertaking large-scale expansion work on contested reefs, including the building of airstrips.
“At some point in time they become inhabited. Will that be the basis of a new claim, right of self-determination, ‘We want to be part of China?’” Aquino, 55, said in an interview on Wednesday at Malacanang Palace in Metro Manila. “One of these particular islands, the Mischief Reef [Meiji Reef, 美濟礁], is very close to Palawan. Suddenly we are a hop, skip and a jump from their various weapons of war.”
Disputes over the South China Sea, with Taiwan and China claiming about four-fifths of the area under a so-called “nine-dash line” drawn on a 1940s map, have escalated as China expands the reach of its military to back its territorial interests and challenges decades of US naval dominance in the Pacific Ocean.
The tensions risk overshadowing trade and investment ties between China and Southeast Asian nations.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to the UN for arbitration; China has declined to participate in the process. Nations including Malaysia and Vietnam also contest parts of the South China Sea.
“Even as we face a formidable challenge, we have the law on our side. International law is the great equalizer,” Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario said at a foreign correspondents’ forum in Manila yesterday.
The Philippine efforts are aimed at defining “precisely everybody’s rights and obligations with regards to the South China Sea issue, and in that sense provide that environment where we can all come up with the ground rules of how to deal with each other,” Aquino said.
China, which has the second-biggest military budget in the world after the US, has been modernizing its defense, with double-digit spending increases on the armed forces in most years. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has ordered the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready to “fight and win wars.”
China has reportedly allotted 886.9 billion yuan (US$143 billion) for defense spending this year, 10 percent higher than last year and about 45 times bigger than what the Philippines spends.
The latter’s defense budget of 144.5 billion pesos (US$3.2 billion) for this year is 17 percent higher than last year, according to Philippine government data.
China’s land development activities in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) are “intended to change the character, status and maritime entitlements” that may undermine the UN tribunal’s ability to objectively decide the case, Del Rosario said. “It is clear to us that China is accelerating its expansionist agenda and changing the status quo to actualize its ‘nine-dash line’ claim.”
“What can we do? The realities are population-wise they are 1.3 billion, we are 100 million. They are an economic superpower, they are a nuclear power,” he said. “We try not to inflame the situation by answering all their tirades tit for tat.”
“The most the Philippines can do and other countries in a similar situation is to say: ‘This is how China treats its neighbors,’” Aquino said. “China needs the world, like any other country needs the rest of the world, to continue the growth that it is already doing.”
China was the largest trading partner of ASEAN in 2013, with the bloc importing more from the region’s No. 1 economy than it exported to it.
The Philippines has been building closer defense ties with other nations as the territorial tensions continue. It signed a memorandum on defense cooperation with Japan and in January agreed with Vietnam to forge a strategic partnership.
The commander of the US Navy Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, last week called on Southeast Asian nations to form a combined maritime force to patrol the South China Sea, having said in January that the US would encourage an extension of Japanese air patrols into the area.
Japan is embroiled in a separate dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.
Singapore wants India to play a bigger role in the South China Sea, Singaporean Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen said earlier this month. Aquino indicated that he would support potential combined patrols, alongside a bigger role for both Japan and India in the area.
“If the main issue is freedom of navigation, then the activities of all the countries that you mentioned must bolster that idea that there has to be freedom of navigation for this body of water through which from 40 to 50 percent of world trade must traverse,” Aquino said. “Demonstrations of freedom of navigation is I think healthy for everybody.”
Female flight attendants working for Japan Airlines would next month be allowed to wear trousers and abandon high heels, the company said on Thursday, after a feminist campaign took off. The airline became one of the first major Japanese firms to announce the shift after a campaign known as #KuToo last year rejected mandatory high heels at work, drawing more than 32,000 signatures in an online petition. The campaign is part of a wider feminism movement in Japan, with Japan Airlines saying that the new policy was aimed at boosting a “diverse working environment.” PANTS PERMIT “This will be the first time to introduce
FATAL IDEA: The nation’s drugs regulator is curbing use of hydroxychloroquine, which Donald Trump has promoted for its alleged potential to treat COVID-19 Australia’s drug regulator has been forced to restrict powers to prescribe a drug undergoing clinical trials to treat COVID-19, because doctors have been inappropriately prescribing it to themselves and their family members, despite potentially deadly side effects. The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the similar compound chloroquine are currently used mostly for patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, but stocks in Australia have been diminished thanks to global publicity — including from US President Donald Trump — about the potential of the drug to treat COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have potentially severe and even deadly side effects if used inappropriately, including
TARGETED: Although hackers are known to be seeking to capitalize on concern over COVID-19, a cybersecurity expert said he had never seen anything to this extent before Elite hackers tried to break into the WHO earlier this month, sources said, part of what a senior agency official said was a more than two-fold increase in cyberattacks. The identity of the hackers was unclear and the effort was unsuccessful, WHO Chief Information Security Officer Flavio Aggio said. However, he warned that hacking attempts against the agency and its partners have soared as they battle to contain COVID-19, which has killed more than 15,000 worldwide. The attempted break-in at the WHO was first flagged to Reuters by Alexander Urbelis, a cybersecurity expert and attorney with the New York-based Blackstone Law Group,
PORNHUB: Campaigners warn that videos of serious crimes, such as rape, are being uploaded to the site, which has failed to ban or moderate illegal content British lawmakers and campaigners are calling for urgent action to stop videos of rape, revenge porn and child abuse being posted on Pornhub as traffic to the site booms amid a worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. Pornhub’s traffic is up a record 12 percent this month compared with last month, as millions of people across the world are told to stay in their homes. Pornhub owner Mindgeek has used the coronavirus lockdowns to promote its site, giving free Premium access to people living in isolation in Italy, Spain and France. The offer has led to a huge increase in visits to the site from affected