How does it feel being bullied? Beijing now gets its own feel of bullying as the ten member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including its dialog partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) like the United States and Japan virtually ganged up against China’s continuing reclamation on the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea.
However, before the meeting wound down yesterday in Malaysia, it was reported the ASEAN foreign ministers were not in agreement in coming out with strongly worded joint statement to criticize China’s land reclamation. Just a day earlier, the ministers took a unified stand and issued a call for an end to the illegal reclamation activities by China in the Spratlys.
Nonetheless, this latest development is seen as ominously foreboding of China’s facing global isolation, former National Security Adviser (NSA) and ex-Paraaaque Congressman Roilo Golez noted with guarded optimism. Golez was elated with the ASEAN call for an end to China’s reclamation, a common problem affecting several of its member states.
Aside from the Philippines, ASEAN includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The ARF talks in the Malaysian capital are participated in by ASEAN member-states as well as Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and the US.
As this year’s host country for the annual ASEAN Leaders’ Summit slated this November, Golez cited Malaysia has now, in fact, changed tunes. It has joined fellow claimant countries like Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam calling for an end to China’s reclamation activities in Spratlys. Malaysia has, in the past, closely hewed to Beijing’s resolving the maritime conflict on bilateral basis and distanced itself from Philippine initiatives to question the reclamation projects of China at Spratlys before the international arbitration body of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Countries in the region were reluctant before because the dispute in the region was only confined to maritime row but it’s entirely different now because of China’s reclamation activities and building of military bases,” Golez warned. But traditional allies of Beijing among ASEAN states Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are reportedly holding back the ASEAN foreign ministers’ joint statement to denounce these reclamations by China.
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Through these years even without any government portfolio, Golez has been raising the red flag on China’s aggressive and coercive behavior in insisting on its nine-dash line territorial claims over disputed islands, reefs, atolls and sandbars in the entire South China Sea.
He has remained active, however, speaking on the issue before local and international fora in support of the initiatives taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) led by Secretary Albert del Rosario to resolve the maritime conflict with China.
Golez echoed DFA’s grave concern that China’s reclamation projects have included territories not only those within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in West Philippine Sea. China has also been going beyond our country’s territorial limits recognized by the UNCLOS.
Thus, Golez agreed with the DFA tact to elevate a case against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). It is never too late, Golez said, to stop China from further reclamation activities through such international pressure without having to settle the dispute by other means not conducive to world peace.
There were airstrips and other military-type structures completed and constructed on many of these disputed areas in Spratlys not only by China but also by other claimants like the Philippines. Golez, however, believes regional peace is still possible if any new construction or reclamation activities cease in the disputed areas.
We had a very timely discussion at our Kapihan sa Manila Bay about the West Philippine Sea while the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting was also in the midst of debate the other day with China on the conflicting maritime claims. We had Golez as one of our three panelists during our weekly breakfast forum at Luneta Hotel last Wednesday. The two other guests were Kalayaan Island Group Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. and Eric Lachica, one of the leaders of Washington-based Fil-Am advocates of Boycott “Made in China” Movement.
Freshly graduated from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis as a young Navy ensign in 1971, Golez recalled when he first stepped on the shores of Pag-asa one of the Kalayaan Islands Group and the biggest in terms of land area occupied by the Philippines.
Golez welcomed the ASEAN statement on the South China Sea dispute as another backlash on China. Other than ASEAN and the ARF, he believes China will have to contend with the European Union, the G-7-member states that have come up openly against China’s provocative activities in the South China Sea.
“It’s now China against the world,” Golez quipped.
From his various readings of world geo-politics, he suspects Beijing’s real intention in its aggressive maritime claim to almost the entire South China Sea: to dominate the entire region by establishing a triangle defense.
To help us better appreciate the situation now in the West Philippine Sea, Golez presented at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay an audio-visual presentation of maps and aerial photos where exactly Beijing has reclamation projects in Spratlys. He pointed to China’s current building of military-type structures at Fiery Cross and Subi Reef as well as reclaiming Mischief Reef.
From a military angle, Golez surmised Beijing’s objective is to put up its first island chain defense from the shorelines of Brunei in the South China Sea up to the shorelines of the Senkaku Island Group in East China Sea.
Once this is completed, Beijing is expected to be moving towards the Pacific by also putting up its second island chain defense, starting from East China Sea from Japan towards Guam, he added.
If reclamations in these disputed maritime areas are not stopped right here, right now, Golez agreed with world apprehensions that China will move to project its military might globally across the Pacific sooner than feared.