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Vietnam, Philippines should coordinate over China’s reef expansion: pundit

Vietnam, Philippines should coordinate over China’s reef expansion: pundit

Monday, September 15, 2014, 19:15 GMT+7

Editor's Note: Chito Sta. Romana, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and Former Bureau Chief of ABC News in Beijing, said in a recent exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper that both Vietnam and the Philippines should share information and closely coordinate on how to deal with China’s Johnson South Reef expansion in the East Sea.  

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Q.  How did civilians, scholars, and authorities in the Philippines react to the recent construction on Johnson South Reef by China? A - According to a news release from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) last May, the Philippine government first detected the construction on Johnson South Reef in February this year. The DFA said the Philippine government filed an official protest to China last April about this construction, but the Chinese rejected it. In May the DFA released to the media and the public surveillance photos showing the construction on the Johnson South Reef and stated that President Aquino also brought up the issue at the ASEAN summit in Myanmar last May. The DFA added that the government also included the matter in its Memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, asking it to clarify the status of Johnson South Reef.

The Filipino citizens, including scholars, have reacted with anxiety and alarm at the Chinese construction on the Johnson South Reef and other reefs. A public opinion survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS), a professional firm that regularly monitors public sentiments, showed that China is the least-trusted foreign country in the Philippines, and China's trust ratings have fallen to record lows, even into negative territory.

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Chito Sta. Romana

Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio revealed in a recent speech that historical research showed that China's claim on Scarborough shoal was based on historical myths or lies, and not historical facts. He used about 60 Chinese, Philippine and Western maps to bolster his argument that, historically, Hainan was considered the southernmost tip of China's territory.

An exhibition of these maps recently began at De La Salle University (in Manila), and there are plans to hold similar exhibits in other leading Philippine universities as part of an educational campaign for the Filipino public.

Q. How should the Philippines and Vietnam react to China’s move?

A - It is likely that the Philippines and Vietnam will closely monitor the Chinese construction and publicize the photos showing its current status. Both countries should share information and closely coordinate on how to deal with this Chinese plan.

Q. What about the roles of ASEAN and the international community?

A - The Philippines and Vietnam should share whatever information they have with ASEAN and the international community so that there will be more voices criticizing China's unilateral action. A unified expression of "serious concern" by ASEAN and a chorus of criticism from the international community will contribute to making the Chinese leadership realize that such construction work will have a negative impact on the state of ASEAN-China relations, and on China's international image as a responsible emerging power.

Q. China began building new islands around two months after they withdrew an oil rig from Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In your opinion, which is “bigger,” a new island or an oil rig?

A - In my opinion, deploying an oil rig is much bigger than construction of an artificial island, in the sense that the oil rig could lead to the exploitation of oil and natural gas resources in disputed waters. Building artificial islands is also relatively big, since it involves the expansion of facilities in disputed features, but the process could take several months, if not years, to become an operational reality, But an artificial island could potentially become "bigger" in the future, especially if it is turned into a military facility that could pose a direct threat to Philippine-held islands.

The construction work in Johnson South Reef certainly shows the use of China's superior might and technology, because it takes considerable resources and equipment to carry out this project. Moreover, this construction undercuts the Philippines' case against China in the arbitral tribunal and puts the Philippines and the international community in a dilemma, of how to enforce a decision in case the tribunal rules in favor of the Philippines.

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Quynh Trung/ Tuoi Tre News

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