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Warming up sea conflict

Geopolitics is again in play for the Philippines after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana indicated that Chinese activity has resumed in the disputed territories in the South China Sea and that an airbase has been built on Fiery Cross Reef which is part of the Spratly Islands.
Lorenzana issued statements which in effect raised suspicions that China has been putting soldiers and weapons systems in the artificial structures over the reef.
He said the defense department will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest.
The reef is close to Philippine oil and gas drilling interests in Reed Bank which is being undertaken by a local conglomerate.
While the project has an apparent Chinese counterpart, the proponents are not comfortable with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) breathing down their neck.
The concerns about China was raised, meanwhile, closely after the Korea peninsula crisis had cooled and the Trump administration is looking for an overseas diversion as US President Donald Trump’s domestic problems pile up.
China claimed developments on the islands were civilian in nature and is not directed at any particular foreign country.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China has carried out work in its own territory to ensure the security of peaceful navigation in the region; disaster prevention and mitigation; maritime search, rescue and research.
Lu added that China and the Philippines are friendly neighbors and the two countries maintain smooth communication and dialog over the issue.
He added China is ready to strengthen communications with the Philippines to eliminate misunderstandings and enhance mutual trust.
Chinese geopolitical experts said some politicians in the Philippines wanted to use the South China Sea issue as an excuse to contain China and pressure the Duterte administration to go against China.
“It is groundless for the Philippine politician to accuse China of militarizing the island. China’s facilities on the Yongshu Reef are necessary to support the livelihood and safety of the people living there, which are defensive in nature. China also built the island to support efforts to crack down on maritime terrorism,” Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, said.
“Some politicians close to the US want to use the South China Sea issue to contain China as well as pressure the Duterte Administration, since the two countries have agreed to put aside disputes and jointly develop the area,” Cheng said.
The Palace has issued statements affirming trust in China to have acted in good faith in its earlier commitment not to artificially enhance and develop even more islands in the area.
According to Reuters China has broadcast aerial photography of Fiery Cross Reef broadcast on state-run television at the end of December and that the reef has displayed more signs of construction every time China broadcasts footage of it.
The report cited American observers expressing fears that “China is developing the military power needed to interfere with the huge amount of commercial shipping that passes through the South China Sea,” which incidentally is the rationale of the American government in its continued role in the Asian hot spot.
China has criticized American intervention in the territorial conflict and indicated that it will not be part of any negotiations involving a party outside of those involved in the conflict.
China claims it has merely constructed a “weather station” with an airport, hospital, and barracks on the reef.
The US government is already making its voice heard on the conflict. “China’s provocative militarization of the South China Sea is one area where China is contesting international law. They are pushing around smaller states in ways that put a strain on the global system,” Brian Hook, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said.
“We are going to back up freedom-of-navigation operations and let them know we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Hook said.
Keeping the South China Sea conflict warm favors the American interest in its revitalized effort to contain China.

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