China likely to fully develop facilities in South China Sea: analyst

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2016 10:00 PM

MANILA - China will likely fully develop its facilities in the South China Sea despite the arbitration ruling that favored the Philippines, an analyst said on Thursday.

Professor Richard Heydarian, author of the book 'Asia's New Battlefield: US, China and the Struggle for Western Pacific,' told [email protected], these facilities could be used to impose an Air Defense Identification Zone.

If China imposes the exclusion zone, it will keep the Philippines from deploying supplies to its personnel on Pag-asa Island.

"I think it's very possible that China will build these facilities full-fledged and at some point try to begin imposing restrictions to other countries," he said.

Construction is seen on Subi Reef in the Spratly islands, in the disputed South China Sea in this July 24, 2016 satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on August 9, 2016. Reuters/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout

New photos of disputed islands in the South China Sea show significant developments, including reinforced aircraft hangars, in China's reclamation projects.

READ: New images show China hangars on fake islands 

Nevertheless, Heydarian said the Philippines should continue improving relations with China through special envoy and former President Fidel V. Ramos, who is now in Hong Kong.

Ramos, he believes, is a credible envoy to soften the relations with China as the former state leader is a well-respected man in the region.

'STILL TOO EARLY FOR MAINLAND VISIT'

Heydarian noted, the initial talks being held in the Chinese special administrative region in itself says "that it’s too early for [Ramos] to go to the mainland or meet very high-level officials in China," but it's a good start to "rekindle communication channels."

He is optimistic that if this trip goes well, the next one may be to Beijing to meet the higher-tier officials, when as he noted, there is increasing interest by Chinese media on the issue as well as the input of Filipino analysts.

"I think the Chinese government is realizing that this is an olive branch that the Duterte administration is extending to them, and this is probably one of the opportunities to them to find some sort of modus viviendi with the Philippines," he said.

He also noted that if China pushes through with the exclusion zone he believes they may pursue, these talks may lead to a "special treatment" from China similar to what they have given Malaysia.

"I think the point of President Ramos going there and [President Rodrigo] Duterte reaching out to them is to make sure that with respect to us, they will have a different treatment," he said.

"If you look at how China is treating Malaysia, they've always had a special treatment because Malaysia was very careful not to rock the boat and adopt a quiet diplomacy," he added.

Heydarian believes, the Duterte administration may be hoping that Manila's legal victory at The Hague can be used as leverage against China to ask more freedom of navigation.

"We can use the legal victory to pressure China and even ask for more freedom of navigation in the area or even push for other arbitration cases against China, maybe in exchange for not doing that we can ask the Chinese not to cut off our supply lines, to allow us to continue our reconnaissance activities," he said.