China’s national ambition in the West Philippine Sea is gaining momentum as recent Chinese naval ships have conducted large-scale exercises in an island-invasion scenario, with the aim of pushing out Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines out of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in a bid by China to dominate the resource-rich area and a sea gateway where $6 trillion worth of shipping business passed through each year.
China currently holds 7 islets in the West Philippine Sea and in the past few years have turned them into bigger military installations with airstrips and naval ports to accommodate larger PLA forces with fighter jets, tanks, missiles, frigates, destroyers and submarines.
These military bases holds a crucial role in China’s ambition to dominate the Spratly islands as it is written in Chinese military doctrines that the West Philippine Sea is part of the first-island chain that China needs to control and assert its sovereignty and power. Weaker nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia are all in a difficult position with the Philippines opting to kowtow to Chinese prowess as Philippine Pres. Rodrigo Duterte has intended to realign the Philippines to China in exchange of Chinese loans worth $20-billion to fund Duterte’s build-build-build program but so far the build-build-build has yet to materialize or gain its full momentum.
However, Indonesia and Vietnam have taken different strategy to tackle their disputes with China. Vietnam and Indonesia have ramp-up their defense spending in acquiring fighter jets, missile batteries, naval ships and submarines, in a bid to protect their claim and territories against any Chinese military adventurism in the Spratly islands. Vietnam and Indonesia respectively has an annual defense budget of more than $3-4billion each year to modernize its military while the Philippines sets a budget of $500-million a year but has since then met issues that delays the acquisition program.
While Pres. Duterte is befriending China and giving out praises to Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping. China’s bullying towards the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea tells a different story, Filipino marines and fishermen have reported Chinese coastguard vessels and militia ships of harassment and even to the extent of blocking replenishments to Philippine territories in the Spratly.
One case was the ramming of a Gemver-22, a Philippine fishing boat sunk by a Chinese militia ship and left the Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves for 3 days until a Vietnamese fishing boat rescued the crew. It was a highly sensitive case yet China and the Philippine government downplayed the incident and even accused the Filipino crew of lying.
These issues were brought-up by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Chinese government which China assures that it won’t happen again but after a few weeks or a month, China’s harassment continues.
One thing is for sure, China will continue its harassment in the Spartly until it has total dominance of the area, they would employ all sorts of deceit, disinformation, and lies.
China knew that the political system in the Philippines is a peculiar one whereby elected presidents have different positions and policies to the national interest of the Philippines. A good sample case was the Aquino and Duterte administration. The Aquino admin aligned the Philippines to more US military intervention in the West Philippine Sea and even bringing the sea dispute in a United Nations Tribunal in Geneva of which the Philippines won the case against China in July, 2016. Sadly, Duterte happened in the Philippines and it shifted the political paradigm and national policy of the previous administration and opted to befriend China, with catastrophic results in the past few years while the Philippine government only received less than 15% of the China loan.
Clearly, China is playing its cards well to have greater influence in the Duterte administration and the Philippines as a whole. China doesn’t even need to fire a single bullet, it has already won the war.
Who are the winners in this powerplay?
China and the corrupt politicians who’ve colluded with them.
Who are the losers?
You and I, and the rest of the Philippines.