The foreign ministry of Philippines has cautioned that President Rodrigo Duterte will go to war with China if it crosses ‘red lines’ and claim disputed resources.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that it was unacceptable that China is trying to extract oil and gas from the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is at the heart of a land and water dispute between China, the United States, and much of Southeast Asia. China’s claim to the region is historic going back to the Xia and Han dynasties. The US has maintained that the region was part of international waters. Other countries that are disputing the South China Sea include Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Vietnam has become the most vocal critic of China’s claims to the sea, particularly since Filipino President Duterte’s China-friendly stance.
China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols. The United States says it does not take sides in territorial disputes but has sent military ships and planes near disputes islands, calling them “freedom of navigation” operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes.
One reason why the South China Sea is so vital to these countries is due to its strategic significance. It is a major trade route, $5.3 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea. Besides the region’s strategic position, it is also rich in natural resources. Natural gas reserves that exist in the region are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet). Reed Bank, which is situated near the coast of the Philippines, is believed to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas. The region also holds reserves of minerals such as titaniferous magnetite, zircon, monazite, tin, gold, and chromite.
Over the last month, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been staging successive military exercises across the Western Pacific and stepping up its presence in the South China Sea. China has built seven man-made islands on reefs in the Spratly Islands. Experts have noted that three of these islands have the capabilities for accommodating fighter jets. Earlier his month, CNBC reported that China had installed long-range missiles on these three islands. Read more on this here.
The Philippines has warned China that it will go to war over natural resources in the South China Sea.
The contentious issues discussed with China were construction activities at a disputed Scarborough shoal and the unilateral extraction of oil and gas in the South China Sea. The shoal, 200 kilometers west of the main Philippines island of Luzon, was the focus of international attention over the past years as China temporarily restricted access to the area by Filipino fishing vessels. In 2016, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague had ruled that the practice was illegal.
Nobody can extract natural resources there on their own,” Cayetano said. “The president has declared that. If anyone gets the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea, he will go to war.”
Critics and left-wing groups have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte for not publicly raising the alarm over recent Chinese actions, including the reported installation of missile defense systems on its newly constructed islands. They say he should demand immediate Chinese compliance with a 2016 arbitration court ruling that invalidated Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to exploit resources in vast stretches of waters off its western coast.
China has told the Philippines that there should be no new occupation of uninhabited areas under a 2002 accord and “we should not embarrass each other in front of all, in all multilaterals and bilateral”, he said.
After taking power nearly two years ago, Duterte declared he would chart a foreign policy not highly oriented toward the United States, the country’s treaty ally. He took steps to revive frosty ties with Beijing while seeking to boost Chinese trade, investment and infrastructure funds.
According to CNBC news, China has purportedly installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its disputed outposts in the South China Sea. If confirmed, this would mark the first Chinese missile deployments in the Spratly Islands where several of its Asian neighbors, including Vietnam and Taiwan, have rival claims. CNBC quoted unnamed sources in American intel that US assessments indicate that the missiles were moved to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef.
Beijing’s deployment of HQ-9B and YJ-12B missiles is aimed at boosting its air and maritime defenses in the region as the US steps up freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) and patrols there, according to Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps.
China has also recently carried out deep-water exploration in an energy-rich area of the disputed South China Sea. This comes as the latest in a series of maneuvers by China in the sea, which it claims to own despite competing claims by other countries. Two of the country’s latest underwater vessels – which can dive to a depth of 4,500m – were used for the three-day mission carrying out scientific research at an ocean site west of the Pearl River estuary in southern China.
The area, dubbed “Seahorse Cold Seep” by Beijing, is the location of China’s first find of active methane hydrates, an energy resource, in the South China Sea, discovered during exploration in 2015. Also called “flammable ice”, methane hydrates have been identified as a potential new natural gas source for China, which still imports the majority of its energy.
Our assessment is that the confrontation between China and Philippines is a test of Thucydides age old aphorism that the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept. We believe that China, a larger power, uses realpolitik to press its expansive claims whereas Philippines, a smaller power, adopts the liberal-legal approach that seeks to balance against China.