Richard heydarian: china exploits the philippines’ soft-pedalling in south china sea- nikkei asian review
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Just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended a series of ministerial meetings in Manila in early August the Philippines faced a fresh and daunting challenge in the South China Sea. In what one prominent Filipino official described as an invasion, a flotilla of Chinese civilian and military vessels gathered within a few nautical miles of the Philippineoccupied Thitu Island, a prized land feature in the area. There are growing concerns that China will gobble up other contested land features in the Spratly chain of islands and tighten the noose around other Claimant states as a prelude to full domination of the South China Sea. The invasion was a shocking development for Manila, which has used its oneyear term as the rotating chair of ASEAN to shield Beijing against criticism of its maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea. The Philippines has also recently proposed resourcesharing agreements in contested areas to break the impasse among Claimant states. In exchange, Manila was hoping to reach a mutually acceptable modus vivendi with Beijing, leading to expanded trade and investment ties. Chinas latest action, however, has exposed Beijings naked opportunism as it exploits the strategic acquiescence of some other ASEAN countries and waning U.S. influence in the region. Beijings assertiveness also casts doubt on the conciliatory policy pursued by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte toward China, and boosts hawks who are urging a tougher stance. Duterte and his Foreign Secretary and former vicepresidential running mate Alan Cayetano have sought to play down the issue, but the Philippine defense establishment and media are outraged. At the recent ASEAN meetings, Philippine officials exercised the countrys prerogative as the groups chair to tone down any criticism of Chinas massive reclamation activities in the South China Sea. Cayetano Claimed that Beijing had not engaged in any reclamation activities in recent months, while indirectly criticizing other Claimant states such as Vietnam for engaging in similar activities. But satellite imagery released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a monitoring program set up by the Washingtonbased Center for Strategic and International Studies, has revealed Chinas relentless expansion and upgrading of disputed land features such as the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. The Philippine foreign secretary admitted that he wanted to avoid issues that China consider sensitive in ASEANs posts…
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