Why you should care that China covets your Spratlys

China’s recent military change? Bruce Jenner’s sex change got more attention.

But maybe it’s time we all took note.

About China.

Forget the old joke about the Chinese Navy being a bunch of junk.

It’s big and ready to strike in the South China Sea.

Image by AALDEF

According to a new white paper–the first public summary of military strategy from China–the Navy is expanding and ready to “counter-attack if attacked.”

They’re building up some real muscle over there in the South China Sea, specifically on tiny specks of isles named for an English seaman who captained prisoner ships in the 1840s.

That would be Dick Spratly, and the islands and reefs that bear his name could be the next hair trigger in Asia.

As David Letterman might have said about cuts of meat, it really is time to get to know your Spratly Islands.

For example, these aren’t Jenner’s chromosomes.

Nor are they errant amoeba or paramecia.

These are satellite photos of the aforementioned microscopic Spratlys, which are claimed by China and other countries nearby, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Guess what?

China is trying to big foot them all and it could be the next big conflict in Asia.

Maybe even the world.

Not only is there an abundance of fish and marine resources, but there are also oil reserves deep down beyond the ocean floor.

The Philippines, in particular, is concerned because of its claim to Thitu Island (also known as Pagasa Island, adjacent to Sandy Cay).

Image by AALDEF

The Philippines’ ragtag navy defending its Spratly holdings includes a rusted ship that’s run aground, a kind of placeholder to let people know that it has more than just dibs on Thitu and the other islands in what the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.

But a constant threat to the southwest of Thitu is nearby Subi Reef, where China has been reclaiming land and has installed a three-story building.

Image by AALDEF

Last week, the U.S. Navy and an embedded CNN crew videotaped activity on another of the eight Spratlys claimed by China, Fiery Cross Reef.

Image by AALDEF

The Navy’s operation unveiled an early warning radar installation, military barracks, a lookout tower, and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military.

It was referred to as China’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

When the surveillance plane was detected, China sent out a loud warning, which in turn seemed to inspire this week’s military status White Paper.

Said China spokesman Col. Yang Yujun to reporters: “There are people deliberately stirring up such discussions, with the aim of smearing the Chinese military and raising regional tensions–we can’t rule out an intention to find excuses for justifying future action by certain countries.”

And that would be who exactly? The Philippines? Or its ally the U.S.?

Meanwhile, China dismisses building on the reefs, saying it was no different than the construction of homes and roads in a new subdivision.

Yeah, but your subdivision might have a Wal-Mart nearby. This one has its own Chinese military airstrip.

This weekend, U.S. and China defense officials are scheduled to meet at a security conference.

Expect more Spratly rattling.

As for the Philippines, it will hope its ally can do some good.

In the meantime, the revelations of China’s buildup in the Spratlys only confirm what many Filipinos have long known.

China’s not backing down, and it’s only getting more aggressive. It’s making some American Filipinos, like New York resident Loida Lewis, extremely concerned with some of the recent actions by the Philippine government.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario (left) listens to Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis of U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance. Philippines Ambassador Jose Cuisia (right) joins the conversation (USPGG photo by Eric Lachica)

Image by AALDEF

Lewis notes China never disputed the Philippines’ claim to the Spratlys, which was submitted to a UN Tribunal. But once the Philippines wins there, Lewis fully expects China to ignore the decision and make the Philippines enforce the claim.

In a letter to Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino, Lewis wrote:

China knows that possession is 99% of the law. That explains the rush of China to reclaim the land in the West Philippine Sea knowing full well that when the UNCLOS Tribunal decides in favor of the Philippines, the United Nations is powerless to execute its judgment against China.

Lewis is also concerned that this month the Philippines is even thinking about joining China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Lewis said that would be “like a father receiving funds knowing that the funder is raping his daughter. He ignores that he and his daughter belong to one family. The Republic of the Philippines is one country, and we cannot separate financial gain from territorial integrity!”

Lewis and her group, the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, have been calling for a boycott of Chinese goods since last year to help publicize their cause.

Another protest will take place on June 12, Philippine Independence day. Multiple demonstrations are planned for Walmart, Macy’s, and Apple stores in cities around the country, including New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

It’s largely a symbolic act. But Lewis wants the world to know the Spratlys are no joke.

It’s time to get to know your Spratlys.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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