Collision at Sea: PBBM Wastes Years of Confidence-Building with China

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin speaking with Chinese Ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing after the International Day of UN Peacekeepers event at Camp Aguinaldo on May 2013. Courtesy of INQUIRER.net

 

By Ado Paglinawan

 

This the statement by Gan Yu, the spokesman of China Coast Guard, on the collision of a Philippine vessel and Chinese Coast Guard ship near Ren’ai Reef (Ayungin Shoal).

“On October 22nd, the Philippine vessels trespassed into the adjacent waters of Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands without permission. Since the Philippine side ignored China’s repeated warnings, the China Coast Guard responded lawfully and blocked the Philippine vessel which was illegally carrying construction materials.

“At 0614 AM, the Philippine vessel Unaizah Mae 2 sailed at the bow of China Coast Guard 5203 (which was conducting law enforcement activities lawfully) on purpose in a way that was not professional nor safe in spite of China’s advanced notice and repeated warnings.

“At 0813 AM, the Philippine vessel 4409 began to astern deliberately, leading to collision of the stern of its vessel into the starboard of China’s static floating Qiong Sansha Yu 00003.

“The move was to make faults with China and escalate the current situation.

“The Philippines’ action seriously violated the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and threatened the navigation safety of the Chinese vessels.The operation of Chinese side was professional, legitimate and lawful and the responsibility lay entirely with the Philippine side.

End of statement.

One of the two Philippine vessels, Unaizah Mae 1 carrying the usual cargo of humanitarian needs of our Marines, was allowed to complete their delivery to BRP Sierra Madre.

BNN Breaking, a newly launched news network founded by visionary entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal, adopts an objective perspective:

“The waters of the South China Sea, a crucible of geopolitical tensions, witnessed yet another flashpoint on Sunday as the Chinese Coast Guard intercepted Philippine vessels accused of an audacious attempt to illegally transport construction materials to a grounded warship at Ren’ai Jiao.

“The incident is seen by Beijing as a brazen violation of its sovereignty.

“In response, the Philippines has sought to cast itself in the role of the victim, a move aimed at garnering international sympathy and support.

“However, this latest maritime maneuver is not merely a bilateral issue between China and the Philippines.

“An invisible third party, the United States, has been accused of stoking the flames of discord as part of its ‘cognitive warfare’ strategy. The goal? To instigate confrontation and sow seeds of conflict between the two Asian nations.”

For the past 24 years, our soldiers at the BRP Sierra Madre have been provided with their humanitarian needs as resupply went on without much fanfare, save for a few isolated cases when the mission was disturbed every time the Philippines attempted to smuggle  building and construction materials. 

It will be remembered that in May 2013, The Philippines and China have a standing agreement that China raised its concerns over the Philippines’ reported plans of establishing structures on Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told Ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing, “We will not violate the agreement not to construct new structures. We told them we’re only bringing supplies for our troops there, like water, food. There will also be rotation of troops because we can’t put our men there permanently or they’ll go crazy,” he said.

Construction has been no light matter. Gazmin quoted Ma as saying that China is continuously monitoring Philippine troops there or whether new structures are being built.

“The threat is always there. It’s always there but we do follow some protocols like avoidance of dangerous maneuvers, avoidance of confrontational moves. So right now it is holding, and we make sure that when go there, as we do regularly and routinely, we move logistics which are unarmed,” he said.

The Inquirer report, however, inaccurately said “The Philippines claims the Ayungin shoal as part of its territory, as it is located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Our claim to Ayungin Shoal is not that of a territory, but of sovereign rights and maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, to exploit for economic reasons resources that are underwater.

This is asymmetrical to China’s claim of sovereignty that the area is part of its territorial seas by historic rights, and conflicts with the fact that sovereign rights cannot protrude the sovereign territory of a neighboring state. In fact UNCLOS provides for a protocol to settle overlapping sovereign rights.

Sadly in building its case, the Philippine deliberately confuses the public by equating sovereign rights with sovereignty, the latter signifying ownership and territoriality in its stubborn slogan “What is ours, is ours!”

Due to this doggedness, the Philippines denies the existence of a conflict, insists on plying the South China Seas without pre-informing China, and ignores China’s cooperation in its planned engagements at sea.

China on the other hand, acknowledges a conflict, and has been open to bilateral action to reduce tensions and resolve disputes.

The Philippine testosteronic posture, under present President Bongbong Marcos Jr. spells out why will it ask permission or even provide information, when it sails within its “own” territory?

The president’s twisted logic began after he visited the United States last May. A lot of geopolitical analysts are wondering what has drove him so especially just a few months after making a state visit to Beijing last January 3-5, 2023, where Xi Jingpin pledged $23 billion in mixed assistance and cooperation to the Philippines.

President Marcos, thereafter, fast-tracked the establishment of four more additional American bases under the Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, despite the expressed prohibition (malum prohibitum) of the Philippine Constitution against in-country foreign military bases, troops and facilities.

After which the modus at managing issues at the South China Seas has also moved towards confrontation in place of an earlier peaceful channel established during his predecessor’s term. 

Vessel carrying Philippine flag cuts in the way of a Chinese Coast Guard ship, after ignoring warnings of the latter. The incident happened early on October 22, with China’s coastguard saying there had been a “slight collision” when it was  “lawfully” blocking the boat from transporting “illegal construction materials” to the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal. Courtesy of Reuters.

Bilateral Mechanisms

On 19 May 2017, the Philippines and China launched a bilateral consultative mechanism in Guizhou, China. The two countries held the First BCM amidst international criticisms of China’s “expansive” construction activities in the Spratly Islands (particularly on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs) and in the Paracel Islands (particularly on North, Tree, and Triton Islands).

According to Rommel Banlaoi, the First BCM was a turning point in Philippine-China relations in that it re-opened practical channels of communication between the two countries and contributed to the warming of bilateral ties between the Philippines and China, and the calming of the overall security situation in the South China Sea.

With the First BCM, the two countries started to meet face to face again to discuss the South China Sea issue after four bitter years of deliberately ignoring and even ridiculing each other during the administration of President Aquino III, openly exchanging views on current regional issues and bilateral concerns on the South China Sea, and agreeing to look for “acceptable approaches to deal with them.”

Banlaoi explained that “Rather than merely talk about their national positions, both decided to work together for conflict avoidance, for prevention of violent incidents at sea, and for win-win economic benefits through joint cooperation.”

The Second BCM was held in Manila on February 13, 2018, the Second BCM was held in Manila deciding to convene technical working groups “to strengthen cooperation in areas such as marine environmental protection, fisheries, marine scientific research, and oil and gas, without prejudice to their respective positions on sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction”.

Despite persistent media reports of China’s “continuing militarization” in the South China Sea, the two states held the Third BCM in Beijing on October 18, 2018 making a landmark decision to pursue actual cooperation on joint exploration and development of maritime oil and gas. This decision eventually led to the signing on November 20, 2018 of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation in Oil and Gas Development announced during the visit to the Philippines of President Xi Jinping who declared the establishment of comprehensive strategic cooperation between the two countries.

The Fourth BCM in Manila on April 2-3, 2019 took place amidst controversies over alleged proliferation of Chinese maritime militias near the Pag-Asa Island. Both parties reasserted “their commitment to address their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to or threatening with force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.”

At a time when China and Vietnam were having a standoff in the Paracels over the issue of oilrigs in the area, the Fifth BCM was held 28 October 28, 2019 in Beijing establishing a concrete innovation in Philippine-China relations when both parties finally established two working groups: 1) the Working Group on Political Security, Fisheries Cooperation; and, 2) the Working Group on Marine Scientific Research and Marine Environmental Protection, demonstrating that the two countries are not only sitting on the consultation tables but also doing something more tangible.

It was also the Fifth BCM that convened the First Meeting of The Philippine-China Inter-Governmental Joint Steering Committee on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development as required by the MOU. In this meeting, both parties clarified their respective national positions on the issue. They also exchanged frank views on how to implement the MOU in accordance with their respective domestic requirements in thew following fields: 1) Legal framework for cooperation arrangements; 2) Scope of cooperation areas; 3) Taxation processes; and, 4) Dispute settlement mechanism.

The Committee decided to hold their second meeting on gas and oil cooperation in early 2020 to continue their discussions, however, Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the process and also put on hold their planned BCM meetings in 2020.

During the pandemic, President Duterte pointedly lifted the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in October 2020 which removed one legal obstacle in the implementation of the MOU on oil and gas development conceived by the BCM.

Unfortunately, the recent 180 degree turn of President Marcos, from diplomacy to proxying for United States interests in the Indo-Pacifi , not only breaks his promise to his constituencies of continuing the priorities of his predecessor’s independent foreign policy, but wastes years of goodwill established on the negotiation table and the momentum of China’s role in helping pump-prime the country’s post-pandemic recovery to the highest possible levels.

The Filipino people are aware of this, but only 7% of the population supports his agenda onto possible war games.

 
<strong>Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan</strong>
Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

is the anchor of Ang Maestro – the Unfinished Revolution at Radyo Pilipinas1, co-host of Opinyon Ngayon at Golden Nation Network Television, a political analyst, and author of books.

His third book, The Poverty of Power will soon be off-the-press. It is a historiography of controversial issues of spanning 36 years leading to the Demise of the Edsa Revolution and the Rise of the Philippine Phoenix. Paglinawan’s past best sellers have been A Problem for Every Solution (2015), a characterization of factors affecting Philippine-China relations, and No Vaccine for a Virus called Racism (2020) a survey of international news attempting to tracing its origins. These important achievements earned for him to be named one of the 2021 international laureates for the Awards for the Promotion of Philippine-China Understanding. Ado, as he called for short, was a former press attaché and spokesman of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and the Philippines’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Facebook
 

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