MANILA, Philippines - Aside from Panganiban Reef (Mischief reef), China has installed another powerful radar in Subi Reef, an islet just 12 nautical miles from the Philippine-held Kalayaan islands in the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.
Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan reported yesterday that the silver-colored dome radar is located atop a four-story building that the Chinese started to build six years ago at the reef southwest of Pag-asa Island, which is part of the Kalayaan islands.
“While the radar could be only for weather monitoring and weather forecasting, one can also surmise that it can also monitor wide areas in the region for any moving and floating object,” Bito-onon said.
Bito-onon said at the other side of the building is a lighthouse that can be seen from Pag-asa Island at night when the sea is calm.
Aside from Subi Reef, China has also constructed a military garrison in Panganiban Reef, an area only 70 nautical miles from Palawan.
Located within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Panganiban Reef is halfway toward the disputed Spratly islands.
The Chinese initially constructed structures on stilts at Panganiban Reef supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen from China during bad weather, despite protests from the Philippine government.
The Chinese later transformed Panganiban Reef into a military garrison equipped with powerful radars and other air and maritime monitoring equipment.
China is claiming almost the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is also being claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Futile arms race
Meanwhile, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said there is no point for the government to use diplomacy or build up military might to go up against China to settle the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
Santiago, an international law and foreign relations expert, said that the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations with claims over the West Philippine Sea are merely mosquitoes compared to China, which she considers a dragon, so waging a battle of might with the superpower is futile.
“It is futile for the Philippines to engage in an arms race with China. No matter how much military equipment we buy, we cannot outfight China. They are just more technologically sophisticated and their economy is simply surging. We don’t have the money to keep up with the Joneses,” she said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum held at the Senate.
She said diplomacy will not work with China and this has been proven numerous times, such as the manner by which the Chinese unilaterally abrogated the 2002 Code of Conduct of the South China Sea that it signed alongside the Southeast Asian claimants.
She pointed out that China has also refused to place itself under the jurisdiction of any international tribunal to settle the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
China is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but will not accept any compulsory procedure in the settlement of disputes.
She said that the Philippines and the Southeast Asian claimants could only make a lot of noise against China because no matter how much it spends trying to develop its military capabilities, they would never be able to match the power of China.
“China, to put it bluntly, is a big gorilla, like an 800 pound gorilla. It will bully its way across the forest. But this is international relations, what can we do? We are entitled to equal protection of the law. But not an equal creation of states,” Santiago said.
“China has its own international law. China is very, very complicated. The Chinese mind is very Chinese,” said Santiago, who was elected as a judge to the International Criminal Court late last year.
As far as the expectation of some Filipinos that the United States will come to the aid of the country in its dispute with China because of the existence of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two countries, Santiago said that she does not see this happening based on the terms of the treaty. – With Marvin Sy