Australia urged Philippines, USA, India, ASEAN & allies to counter China’s 9 rocks claim in WPS

The Philippines must counter China's intrusive actions in the disputed Spratly islands and protect its territory, an Australian expert on political and security issues in Southeast Asia said.

Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and the Australian Defense Force Academy, prodded the Aquino administration and even Vietnam to take steps in enhancing their "national sovereignty" over their exclusive economic zones.

In his paper, titled "Security Cooperation in the South China Sea: An Assessment of Recent Trends," Thayer, a Southeast Asia regional specialist, said Manila's weakness will only invite Beijing "to act more assertively."

He also prodded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the international community, whose ships transit through the South China Sea, to diplomatically confront China over its "aggressive assertiveness."

Thayer went to Manila last year where he spoke during the two-day conference on the South China Sea.

He raised concerns over China's behavior in the disputed territory through "its actions and deliberate encroachments into the islands legally owned by the Philippines under international laws and agreements, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]."

He noted of the wave of Beijing's intrusions into the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) last year, including the harassments by Chinese patrol boats of Filipino vessels that were conducting seismic surveys in the Reed Bank near Palawan.

Illogical sovereignty claim of China

ANALYZING China's behavior, Thayer said its incursions into the country's territory and even in areas occupied by Vietnam is a way of demonstrating its legal jurisdiction over the South China Sea, which it had falsely claimed through the so-called 9 dash line, 9-dotted line or Ox tongue, whose map it submitted to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009.

"China's claim is based on the nine rocks it occupies in the Spratly archipelago. In other words, China claims that the rocks are in fact islands in international law and thus attract a 200-nautical-mile EEZ," he said.

"This is a legal fiction. Islands must be able to sustain human habitation on their own and have an economic function. Rocks, which do not meet these criteria, cannot claim EEZ or continental shelf," he added, echoing the belief of marine specialists.

Beijing's 9-dash mark cut into the EEZ of the Philippines and even Vietnam that have been firmly established under UNCLOS.

Still, the oil explorations in the Reed Bank and other areas in the KIG and even in Hanoi's occupied territory were viewed by China as acts of "plundering of resources" and a challenge to its existence.

Soong Enlai, chairman of the board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), had said his country had been losing about 20 million tons of oil annually or about 40 percent of China's total offshore production owing to such activities in the South China Sea.

Thayer said that in March last year; Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi declared that Beijing's foreign policy would serve the country's economic development.

The pronouncement was immediately followed by a warning against any exploration in waters it claimed in the South China Sea, increased maritime patrols and the recruitment of additional 1,000 personnel for China's marine service that would bring its staff to 10,000.

Superpowers involvement and Assistance to the Philippines and Vietnam

SINCE the South China Sea is not only being used by Southeast Asian countries but also by other countries, including India, the United States and its big allies as a shipping route, these regional powers should assist the Philippines and Vietnam in countering China's aggressiveness, Thayer said.

"It is in the interest of the United States and its allies as well as India to assist both nations [Philippines and Vietnam] in capacity building in maritime security. At the same time, this coalition of like-minded states should back ASEAN in its efforts to secure an agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea," Thayer said.

He added that the ASEAN could draw up a "Treaty on Conduct in the South China Sea," which after its ratifications should open it to accession by nonmember-states.

Thayer, however, doubted whether such could work among the members of the ASEAN since there are "nervous nellies" among its members.

Thayer revealed an alarming analysis over China's actions in the Reed Bank when it harassed Filipino vessels that are doing seismic surveys.

"Chinese actions in the Reed Bank area are designed to expose ambiguities in the US-Philippine Mutual Security [Defense] Treaty over whether or not the Kalayaan Island Group is covered by this treaty," he said.

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