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July 24 marks the first anniversary of China’s creation of the Sansha prefecture to “oversee and administer” 1 million square miles of the South China Sea over which China asserts “indisputable sovereignty.” If allowed to stand, China’s claim will go down as the most brazen maritime territorial grab in history. 


In October 2012, Beijing vested Sansha prefecture with the police authority, effective Jan. 1, 2013, “to board, seize and expel foreign ships” within a vast jurisdiction that includes islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea. Since Sansha’s formation, China has increased its provocative moves against the Philippines, including the occupation of the Scarborough Shoal (115 miles from the Philippines coast) by 90 Chinese ships that barred Filipino fishers from their fishing grounds, and the dispatch of Chinese frigates to Ayungin Reef (105 miles from the Philippines). 

This slicing up of Philippine territory was explained by Major General Zhang Zhaozhong on Beijing TV as all part of China’s “cabbage strategy,” the thrust of which is to surround Philippine territories with an enormous Chinese naval presence.  

According to China, it is the Philippines that is illegally occupying the Ayungin Reef, which is considered the gateway to the Recto Bank (85 miles from the Philippines coast). The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Recto Bank may contain 213 billion barrels of oil and 2 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas.  

China contends that the Philippines is not entitled to its 200 nautical mile boundaries under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because the boundaries of all countries, except China, extend just 12 nautical miles from their coasts. The Convention is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.  

In contrast to China, which is threatening to use force to enforce its claims, the Philippines has advocated working within a multilateral framework, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations, to resolve territorial disagreements. 

On Jan. 22, the Philippines brought its complaint over China’s illegal occupation of its Scarborough Shoal to a United Nations arbitral tribunal, which began its formal hearing July 11 on the petition. Unfortunately, China has ignored the U.N. petition and declared that only bilateral talks can resolve its territorial disputes, a format where it can easily bamboozle its weaker neighbors. 

China’s behavior in the South China Sea dispute is that of an imperial state, imitating the expansionist conduct of the western powers it condemns.  

Standing squarely behind the Philippine government’s efforts to defend its interests in the South China Sea are the 90 million Filipinos in the Philippines and the 12 million Filipinos in the global Diaspora, who are resolved that their homeland will not be bullied into submission by China.  

At noon on July 24, Filipinos will stage simultaneous protest rallies in front of China’s consulates all over the world, including San Francisco, to condemn China’s aggression toward the Philippines. 

Rodel Rodis, a San Francisco attorney, is the president of the Global Filipino Diaspora Council. Rep. Walden Bello is a representative in the Philippine House of Representatives.

OP-ED San Francisco Chronicle, July 24, 2013

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