Building, building, building
WHILE we are all kept agog over sensational headlines about continued killing of “nanlaban” suspects, “anti-tambay” arrests, corruption in high places, Dengvaxia damage and denials, the contentious TRAIN law and the rising cost of everything, politicians’ bickerings, celebrity squabbles, and trending presidential antics (just a fortnight ago, it was a scandalous kiss in Korea, now it’s his “stupid God” line), China is still stealthily building, building, building fortresses on reefs in our territory. In, our, territory!
Photographs released exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in February this year are alarming, to say the least, and if they fail to make you seethe with righteous anger, chances are you’re one of those ashamed to sing our national anthem at movie houses. The authenticated photos, taken from and altitude of 1.5 km., clearly show such islands now studded with naval bases and military installations, but sadly the expose could boast of only 41, 213 shares. Mocha Uson’s 5.3 million blog followers could have done something to make a difference—if they only truly cared.
According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), 2017 proved to be a bumper year for China’s base building in the heavily disputed South China Sea. The three-kilometer runways for the three biggest reefs—Kagitingan, Zamora, and Panganiban (which the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled as belonging to the Philippines)—were apparently ready for use as of November 15, 2017, complemented by hangars, radars and high-frequency antennas, lighthouses, missile shelters, and multi-story buildings. Photos of the smaller reefs Burgos, Calderon, Mabini, and McKennan revealed the presence of helipads, observation and communication towers, radomes, and wind turbines. In the waters, the ubiquitous cargo ships (transporting construction materials), coast guard patrolers, and military ships were photographed so clearly their ID numbers were legible.
“With its construction unrestrained,” the report said, “China will soon have military bastions on Kagitingan Reef, known internationally as Fiery Cross Reef; Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs from which to project its power throughout the region.” To see for yourself, go to: http://www.inquirer.net/specials/exclusive-china-militarization-south-china-sea#ixzz5Jb2LLm5S
From the days when our biggest territory-related problem was shooing away Chinese fishing vessels from Panatag shoal and jailing the poachers for loading their dynamite equipped boats with marine turtles, corals, and giant clams, China has certainly come a long way. In 1974 the Philippine government built an airstrip on Pag-asa, the biggest island of the Kalayaan group; the airstrip was the first ever constructed in the Spratly archipelago, and it was big enough for use by C-130 transport planes. Pag-asa then also boasted of a fully-armed army and marine detachment, but as the winds of politics blew hither and thither, securing Pag-asa was pushed down the priority list of succeeding administrations. Meanwhile, the Chinese fishermen continued to brave the Philippine coast guard’s patrol boats and to doggedly harvest goodies from our rich marine resources. And now, looking at the photos of China’s military installations in the region—wouldn’t you even suspect that those Chinese fishermen were actually spies?
I wouldn’t wonder. Years back, we at the FOCAP (Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines) were almost sure that the correspondents from Xinhua News Agency, a nice, well-mannered husband-and-wife tandem, were spies in disguise. It wouldn’t be impossible, we were told, that their hotel room was bugged, and that they were also under oath to spy on each other! That’s Chinese espionage for you—but, given China’s determination to become the number one imperial world power, its espionage methods have grown so sophisticated through the years that its cyber espionage has been considered a threat to national security by their enemies.
But lest we fear that we are the only one being bullied by China’s powers-that-be, let us look at the bigger picture in the hope to see the real root behind China’s land-grabbing binge. Local authorities bully even their own farmers. Here’s just one instance of farmers tearfully protesting land seizures and being beaten with metal pipes by their own countrymen, filmed by Al Jazeera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBO8UL-INXA
China has also been eating up the Himalayan borderland it shares with India—“bite by kilometer-size bite.” As reported in The Wall Street Journal in September 2014, there have been 1,171 Chinese transgressions from January 2012 to June 2014 along the 2,500 mile long border. One of India’s foremost strategic thinkers, Brahma Chellaney, likens China’s land-grabbing strategy in India to its tactics in the South China Sea. In India, China first sends civilians like herders, farmers, and grazers to settle the land. (In the Philippines, these “civilians” would be the fishermen.) Once the civilians are in place, says the report, the People’s Liberation Army comes in to provide protection, allowing them to establish a more permanent presence in the area. When a foothold is gained, Chellaney says China begins “cutting off access to an adversary’s previously controlled territory and gradually surrounding it with multiple civilian and security layers.” While no single action may be construed as an alarming aggression, over time, the territorial grab expands. Sounds familiar, right?
Just last April, the Pentagon expressed concern for the US over China’s reported massive land grabbing in Maldives, which is in India’s backyard. “We have seen concerning developments in Maldives as far as the Chinese influence is concerned,” said Joe Felter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, in a report in the Hindustan Times, corroborating the allegation made by a former foreign minister of Maldives, Ahmed Naseem, that China was meddling in the island nation’s internal affairs and appeared to be keen on building a base which one day may house warships and submarines. Maldives’ former president Mohamed Nasheed last February also revealed in an interview with the Times of India that the Chinese who have taken control of 17 islands in the Maldives, are “talking about investing $ 40 million in each of the islands but we don’t really know what is the purpose for that.”
And who could forget how China in 1950 invaded Tibet for its natural resources, seized the Potala Palace for its treasures, and drove the Dalai Lama out of their sacred land and into exile to militarize the strategically important border with India? The Dalai Lama—speaking of the atrocities the Chinese invaders inflicted upon his people then—told me in 1981, when we met in Bali, Indonesia, “No other people on earth could be more charming than the Chinese, just as none could match them in their brutality.” The whys and wherefores of that land-grab could fill volumes, and it could show us that China will stop at nothing to expand its territories—plans for which at present include the Moon and Mars.
Remarkable strides in China’s space program seem to show that the Chinese Communist Party is bent on making its mark on the space race. In 2013, president Xi Jinping promised his people that China will send a taikonaut to the moon by the 2030s, but now they are speaking of sending colonies to the moon and targeting to beat the US and Russia to it. Those planets are no man’s territories as far as China is concerned—thus, the first one who gets there gets to own it, and to make maps to subsequently prove their ownership. Chna announced last April that it would send late this year a lunar probe that would conduct biological experiments unprecedented in space history, such as planting potatoes and cultivating silkworm. Huh? From military installations on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea to planting potatoes in the moon—what’s China up to?
A 73-year old Party official, aerospace engineer and head of the Chinese lunar exploration program, Ye Peijan, sums it up when asked (at the CCP’s annual plenary sessions in Beijing last year) why China is going to the moon: “The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough.”
Does that sound Confucian or confusing? The Diaoyu Islands Ye Peijan speaks of refers to Senkaku in Japan, and Huangyan Island is Panatag Shoal. Why Ye should cite such names when the topic is lunar occupation mirrors the CCP’s stand that China goes into space not as a matter of national pride or scientific achievement, but simply as a more ambitious version of wresting control of new land from other nations before anybody else does it.