Monday, December 11, 2023

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FIRING LINE: China trolling for control

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

I’ve grown up knowing that “squatters” is an unsavory term not to be used by the educated. And I’ve been taught in the English language to know that “encroacher” is not only derogatory but a word loaded with accusation when used in journalism.

For all intents and purposes, though, those Chinese vessels spotted in formation near Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef off the coast of Palawan in our West Philippine Sea earlier this month are just that. If not squatters or encroachers, they could well be called an armada of poachers – another description loaded with accusation.

And this corner’s mean and judging tone can be justified by Beijing’s arrogance to even give these malicious maritime acts in our back yard its blessing.

The bigger cause for concern is that while satellite images of this incident appear harmlessly static, bear in mind that these are 220 ships that had sailed all the way from China to territorial waters over which the Philippines has sovereign rights. Just imagine having 220 strangers standing still in front of your gate at your subdivision property. Is that harmless?

As much as our President’s besties-for-life in Beijing are concerned, peace-loving and hospitable Filipinos – just like Mr. Duterte – look the other way as if these encroachments are not part of a war of attrition on the Philippines. Sadly, many of our fellow taxpayers remain entranced by the brute charm of this President that their nationalism has lost its vital senses to detect creeping threats.

For as long as “Poong Duterte” defends China, its movements in the Spratlys, its buying stakes in public trust industries, the planting of its labor force on our employment grounds, and its setting up station beside our military facilities, we shall only be thankful for its grants, loans, and donations with a big smile – oblivious of the slap-kiss-slap we’re getting over there in our rich unguarded waters.

*         *         *

Call me suspicious, but I’m not the only one with eyes wide open to many episodes of small-scale actions made by China that, if not for diplomatic prose and pleasantries exchanged between our leaders, should be considered acts of aggression.

Wasn’t Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. the one who dropped the line “a threat of war” in the mix of China’s legislated “go signal” on its Coast Guard to fire at those who challenged their sovereign claim on still-disputed territories? Dutifully, he filed a diplomatic protest over this March 7 show-of-force, which Locsin said is “a clear, provocative action of militarizing the area.” To date, Manila has filed over 60 diplomatic protests against Beijing.

Locsin’s wits are supported by the opinion of United States-based maritime analyst Andrew Erickson, who identified the steel-hulled vessels as likely to be China’s Sansha City Maritime Militia. Sansha City – which the Philippines has not recognized – is the district established just last year by China that specifically stakes its claim on the entire Spratly Islands as part of its administrative jurisdiction.

While Malacañang assures the public that the Chinese maritime militia ships’ presence would not result in something similar to the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal standoff, Erickson suggests a differing academic opinion. “Crewed by well-salaried full-time personnel recruited in part from former PLA (People’s Liberation Army) ranks, they appear not to bother fishing – the better to focus on trolling for territory,” Erickson wrote on Foreign Policy.

Simply put, that means China is moving to gain control of more territories in the West Philippine Sea. So, what now?

*         *         *

SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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