As U.S. goes quiet on close naval patrols, China speaks out

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2018   •   3498

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015.
REUTERS/RITCHIE B. TONGO/POOL

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – While the Pentagon plays down patrols close to Chinese-controlled reefs and islands in the South China Sea, Beijing is sounding the alarm about them, seeking to justify what experts say will be an even greater presence in the disputed region.

Chinese officials publicized the latest U.S. “freedom of navigation patrol”, protesting the deployment last week of the destroyer USS Hopper to within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll west of the Philippines which Beijing disputes with Manila.

It was the second time in recent months that confirmation of a patrol came from Beijing, not Washington, which had previously announced or leaked details.

Bonnie Glaser, a security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said while the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump had a policy of keeping the patrols regular but low key, China was willing to publicly exploit them to further their military ends.

“It is difficult to conclude otherwise,” she said. “Even as it pushes ahead with these (patrols), I don’t think the Trump administration has really come to terms with what it will tolerate from China in the South China Sea, and what it simply won’t accept, and Beijing seems to grasp this.”

In official statements, Chinese foreign ministry official Lu Kang said China would take “necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty” in the resource-rich sea.

Some regional diplomats and security analysts believe that will involve increased Chinese deployments and the quicker militarization of China’s expanded facilities across the Spratlys archipelago.

While U.S. officials did not target China in their comments, couching freedom-of-navigation patrols as a “routine” assertions of international law, Beijing was quick to cast Washington as the provocateur.

The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper on Monday accused the U.S. of upsetting recent peace and co-operation and “wantonly provoking trouble”, saying China had must now strengthen its presence in the strategic waterway.

CONSTRUCTION AND MILITARIZATION

In recent years, China has built up several reefs and islets into large-scale airstrips and bases as it seeks to assert and enforce its claims to much of the sea, through which some $3 trillion in trade passes annually. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, hold rival claims.

Chinese coastguard and People’s Liberation Army navy ships patrol vast swathes of the South China Sea, routinely shadowing U.S. and other international naval deployments, regional naval officers say.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security analyst at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, told Reuters he believed Beijing was rattled by Trump’s sharpening Asia strategy and they might be tempted to react in the South China Sea, even after months of relative calm.

“We can perhaps expect the Chinese to push ahead with militarization as retaliation,” he said.

A new U.S. national defense strategy unveiled last week stressed the need to counter the rising authoritarian powers of China and Russia, outlining a need to better support allies and newer partners against coercion.

While most analysts and regional envoys believe China remains keen to avoid an actual conflict with the significantly more powerful U.S. navy in the South China Sea, it is working to close the gap.

China has added bunkers, hangars and advanced radars on its new runways in the Spratlys, although it has not fully equipped them with the advanced surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles they use to protect the Paracels grouping further north.

Similarly, Beijing has yet to land jet fighters in the Spratlys – test flights some experts are expecting this year.

POTENTIAL FLASHPOINT

The latest patrol was at least the fifth such patrol under the Trump administration and the first to Scarborough – one of the more contentious features in the region.

Scarborough, once a U.S. bombing range, was blockaded by the Chinese in 2012, prompting the Philippines to launch its successful legal case in the Hague against China’s excessive territorial claims.

China allowed Filipino fishermen back to Scarborough’s rich waters last year, but it remains a potential flashpoint as both sides claim sovereignty and China maintains a steady presence of ships nearby.

While experts and regional envoys expect China to ramp up operations from the Spratlys, none expect it to build on Scarborough – something widely believed to be a red line that would provoke the United States, given its long-standing security treaty with the Philippines.

Shi Yinhong, who heads the Center for American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University, said China had “lived with” U.S. patrols for several years but the key facts on the ground remained in China’s favor and broader tensions had “improved remarkably”.

“These islands, especially those with reclaimed land and military capability already deployed, they’re still in Chinese hands,” Shi, who has advised the Chinese government on diplomacy, told Reuters.

“I don’t think Trump has the stomach and the guts to change this fundamental status quo.”

(This story has been refiled to correct typo in paragraph 5)

Reporting By Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast

Over 193,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech has been delivered in the Philippines.

The shipment arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 around 9 p.m. on Monday.

The initial batch of 193,050 doses of Pfizer vaccines was courtesy of the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX Facility.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. earlier said the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines will serve as a logistical run to prepare for the arrival of additional Pfizer vaccine doses, which require storage temperature conditions of -70 degrees Celsius.

The Department of Health said this batch of Pfizer vaccines would be distributed to Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao, which have facilities capable of handling the product to avoid wastage.

These will be used on priority groups A1 (health workers), A2 (senior citizens), and A3 (persons with co-morbidities).

The government hopes to get 1.3 million more Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX facility this May.

Pfizer-BioNTech is the fourth brand of vaccine against coronavirus disease that the Philippines received since the government rolled out its immunization program on March 1. Vaccine supplies from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Gamaleya Institute have been delivered in the past weeks.

Duterte: I asked Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping for help on COVID-19 vaccines but no talks on WPS

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday disclosed that he asked help from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in obtaining COVID-19 vaccines but insisted that they did not discuss issues on the West Philippine Sea.

During his Talk to the People public address on Monday night, Duterte recalled how he called Xi when the Philippines had yet to get any supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Let me just also say na itong history na… for public consumption na ito. Tumawag ako kay President Xi Jinping, sinabi ko kasi noong kasagsagan ng walang dumating talaga, walang makapkap si Secretary (Carlito) Galvez (Jr.), tumawag ako, sabi ko, ‘Mr. President (Xi), I would like to ask for your help until now Philippines is at a loss on how to get vaccines,’” he said.

“Sabi niya, ‘it’s okay we will help you.’ Ganoon lang. Hindi naman sinabi na kalimutan mo yung Scarborough Shoal, bigyan kita… Sinabi niya lang as simple as that,” he added.

The Philippines first received 600,000 doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines that were donated by the Chinese government on February 28. The national government used this supply to roll out its vaccination program on March 1.

In total, the Philippines has received 1 million donated Sinovac vaccine doses from China, including the 400,000 doses that were delivered in March.

Duterte stood by his earlier statement that the Philippines owes a debt of gratitude to China for all its help but emphasized that there would be no compromise on the West Philippine Sea issue.

“It’s never, never wrong to say that I owe you a debt of gratitude. Totoo eh, binigyan tayo, tinanggap natin, ginamit natin,” he said.

“But it does not mean na tanggapin ko ang bakuna tapos sabihin ko kalimutan ko na yung claim diyan sa West Philippine sea, okay na yun dahil sa bakuna… It was never like that, the world does not operate like that,” he added.

He said there would be no compromise on the issue and that China knows it.

“Maski bahain tayo dito ng vaccine, gagamitin ko pa rin pero sabihin ko ‘hindi ito kabayaran’. Iba ito. This is a Philippine national interest, this is not a health issue that nagpasalamat ako,” he said.

Correction:
An earlier version of this article misstated that “they did discuss issues.” 

Why did Duterte tap out of challenge to debate with Carpio?

Robie de Guzman   •   May 10, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he is not afraid of facing retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in a debate on issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte last week dared Carpio to square off on the loss of a Philippine territory during the Aquino administration, but later tapped out and instead delegated the task to his spokesperson, lawyer Harry Roque.

“What was in my mind when I challenged Carpio into a debate? Ang problema lang kasi dito nakalimutan ko na si Carpio hindi ang presidente – ako,” Duterte said in his weekly Talk to the People on Monday night.

Duterte said he had to back out of the challenge because anything he might say there could be construed as a “policy statement.”

“I might bind future actions of government pagdating dito sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.

“Pero dodoon ako sa kahon, it’s not because I am afraid of debates,” he added, saying that he had faced many debates with political rivals for the presidency in 2016.

“Hindi ako takot sa’yo, ang problema, hindi ko nga alam na hindi ka president,” he further said, addressing Carpio.

Duterte has blamed the previous administration over the loss of the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea following a standoff in 2012.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said that China “deceitfully breached” its agreement with the Philippines to withdraw the ships of both sides to end the standoff.

The Philippines then pursued an arbitral case against China in 2014. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 in favor of the Philippines and nullified China’s vast claims in the South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte said he tried pursuing the arbitral ruling but nothing happened.

China has been ignoring the diplomatic protest that the Philippine government has repeatedly filed over the incursion of Chinese vessels in the contested waters.

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