After consolidating control over Philippine-claimed features in the South China Sea, China is now casting its gaze on the island nation’s eastern waters opening onto the Pacific Ocean.
Last week, Filipino Congressman Gary Alejano revealed in a privilege speech that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) had approved a Chinese state-funded think tank’s request to conduct a scientific survey of the Benham Rise, a seismically active 13 million hectare underwater plateau.
As part of the agreement, China’s Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) will work with a team from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute. Largely undeveloped, the marine feature is believed to be rich in natural gas, heavy metals, fisheries and other resources.
In 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf granted the Philippine government’s petition that the Benham Rise be considered part of the country’s continental shelf, thus giving it sovereign rights over the vast maritime territory.
The designation means that although the maritime feature is not part of its national territory, the Philippines enjoys exclusive rights to the exploitation of its natural resources. Filipino fishermen have long sailed in Benham Rise’s waters.
Alejano and other critics have questioned the wisdom of allowing China access to the area, particularly considering recent developments in the South China Sea.
“We should be careful and prudent in granting any access to our waters, especially with China who is known to claim 80 percent of our [exclusive economic zone] in the South China Sea through its expansive nine-dash line [map],” he said.
Alejano questioned why a similar request by a French nongovernmental organization, Tara Expeditions Foundation, was refused, arguing that allowing the French group access to Benham Rise would be safer since France and the Philippines have no maritime dispute.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has defended the decision, saying it is based on existing laws which allow for foreign ships to conduct research in Philippine waters as long as there is a Filipino national aboard.
That didn’t satisfy critics who feel President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has frequently sacrificed national interests for economic benefits from China.
“Allowing a Chinese national think tank to conduct a so-called scientific research over Philippine waters, even with the participation of Filipinos, is careless and absurd,” Alejano said, particularly as China has recently shown “alarming interest” in Benham Rise.
In March 2017, the Philippine government announced that sent a note verbale to the Chinese government asking why there were Chinese survey ships in Benham Rise from July to December 2016.
China’s foreign ministry said the ships’ were in “innocent passage”, a claim rebutted at the time by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. He countered that “innocent passage” means crossing from point A to point B and not crisscrossing an area for several months.
In response, Lorenzana announced that he would increase military patrols in the area and move to construct territorial markers.
In May 2017, the Philippine government rechristened Benham Rise, named after a US Navy officer who likely discovered the feature, as the “Philippine Rise” and designated the area as a “protected food supply exclusive zone.” It also prohibited mining and oil exploration in the underwater plateau.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a noted expert in the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea, described the Duterte government’s decision to allow survey ships to Benham Rise as “dumb.”
“China has squatted in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and refuses to leave despite the ruling of the UNCLOS tribunal. The Philippines would be dumb to grant China’s request,” he said.
The development comes as China tightens its grip over the South China Sea, including over Philippine-claimed features such as the Scarborough Shoal and Fiery Cross Reef.
As of December 2017, China had built structures on a total of 28 hectares in the Spratlys and Paracel Islands in a rapid militarization of the contested maritime area, strategic think tanks said.
The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US-based think tank, said that these structures included hangars, missile shelters, radar arrays, and others have been built on the artificial islands.
Security analysts see the build-up leading to the possible imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that would consolidate China’s control of the South China Sea, comprising the so-called ‘First Island Chain.’ Some US$3 trillion worth of global trade passes through the waterway every year.
But Benham Rise’s potential importance to China is likely more strategic than economic. Astride the strait between northern Luzon and southern Taiwan, it is one of the main passageways for naval ships out of the South China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Benham Rise is also situated in the center of the so-called ‘Second Island Chain’ that runs from the shores of Yokohama, Japan, down to the northeastern shores of Indonesia’s islands and bypassing the US military base at Okinawa that allows ships to potentially reach crucial US air and naval bases at Guam.
Filipino critics say surveying the features of Benham Rise could give China a new strategic advantage, as the waters of the Second Island Chain would give its ships and submarines ample space to maneuver, unlike in the cramped, contested and highly surveilled waters of the South China Sea.
With a government in Manila increasingly viewed as subservient to Beijing’s interests, the survey could not only open the Philippines’ eastern maritime area’s marine resources to possible Chinese mapping and exploitation, but also create a possible new great power flash-point close to home.
Nobody pays heed to such propaganda nowadays. US has been surveying such waters as well as littoral waters off China coasts for decades to conduct :research?", At least China asks for permission.
If it is the US, it is okey but if it is China it is bad. With most articles, Atimes should be America Times and not Asia Times.????
Merlin Geikie china also fished usa military probe outa water too
all the gase and oils world wide falls under usa sovereignty
At least with China the Phillipines get economic bennefits. What do they get from the US? Nothing at all of value. A few military bases helping make a few more enemies in the region.. The Phillipinos would be crazy to turn their backs on China. Thats where the future is. Besides China will not be overthrowing their government , with the US you never konw when they will send in the marines, kill Dutarte just like they did Kadaffi and Saddam and install a military dictatorship.
Rfc Mys…..Now China is putting all the seas under China’s sovereignty.
Thomas Daniel Kuhn …..The Philippino nation knows better than you do, I believe. They will get a lot more from the US than from China because China owns everything while the US will let the Philippines own everything, regardless of whoever runs the Philipino government.
Wood Wu Friend once we get in we never leave,for you have been our bitch ever since 1900/1901,and for every dollar we gave/invested we took a 100 out,simply the way we operate on the no free lunch system….
I agree. Another point the US has been in the Phillipines for over 100 years an it is still one of the very poorest nations on earth. China looks like a really good deal as compared to that record.
Wood Wu Well, Duterte definitely know a lot more about US subversive behaviours in his home town Mindanao, either massccres a hundred years ago or bombing and intrusions as recent as this century. Google "Duterte bombing FBI" and educate you pea brain.
Duterte is going full retard. China snatched territory in the Paracels and dregded an island for military purposes in the Scarborough Shoal and now he wants them to play more in the Phillipines EEZ. That warrants a WTF? Full stop!
Whatever details of Duterte agreement with Beijing on this issue… The people of Philippines trust him to look after their interests.
Thus completing the peaceful annexation of a banana republic, thanks to the potty mouth President Duterte.
Rfc Mys That was a false probe, laid in the water for the PLAN to fish out and copy. Thing is it won’t work 😀
China secretly loves the USA but wishes that they could have elections and vote in a person like Trump.
But the CCP is too frightened of the great Chinese people and won’t hold elections, until forced to, by the people.
That will happen, don’t worry.
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