Is China drawing the “red line” in the Spratlys? Is the United States ready to draw a “red line” in the Scarborough Shoal? Where is the Philippine “red line” in the South China Sea after the Arbitration Tribunal rulings favoring the Philippine claims against China?
The phrase “to cross the red line” is used worldwide to mean a figurative point of no return or line in the sand or a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed. The phrase has been used in geopolitical terms. For example, in 1975 Israel said that the United States “has managed to draw a red line which all Arab countries know they must not cross – that America is not going to sacrifice Israel for the sake of Arab support.”
A week ago, it sounded like China – or at least its Armed Forces – seemed to be drawing a red line. The American Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson visited the Chinese North Sea Fleet headquarters in Qingdao. During the visit, Admiral Wu, Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, immediately lectured Admiral Richardson on the Tribunal’s ruling against China’s claims saying: “The Chinese navy is prepared to react to any infringement of rights or aggression…efforts to force us to succumb to pressure will only be counterproductive. We will never stop our construction on the Nansha (Spratly) Islands…The Nansha ( Spratly) Islands are China’s inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful…Any attempt to force China to give in through flexing military muscles will only have the opposite effect.”
Admiral Richardson immediately countered and said: “The US Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including the South China Sea in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all.”
There are two potential sources of conflicts in this disputed region. The first is Scarborough Shoal; and, the second is the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea.
China’s occupation of Scarborough Shoal has always been a big issue for the Philippines because Filipino fishermen have been forcibly deprived of fishing rights by Chinese maritime vessels. At the same time, Chinese fishermen have been fishing in the area and destroying the marine environment.
Scarborough Shoal has also been a serious concern for the United States because there are reports that China is planning to turn Scarborough into another artificial island and possibly build an airbase similar to the seven artificial islands built in the Spratlys. This Shoal is not only ideal fishing grounds but is also ideally located to control the northeast exit route of the South China Sea.
Scarborough is only 150 nautical miles west of Subic Bay. If this is turned into a base with an airfield, radar and other modern surveillance equipment, China will have full time radar coverage over most of Luzon and the capability to declare an ADIZ over the Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by the Philippines and recognized by the Arbitration Tribunal.
Recent US actions suggest that the United States see Scarborough as a very different issue from the Spratlys and Paracel Islands. Unlike those two areas, Scarborough is not being claimed by any other country aside from the Philippines and China. Also, for more than 50 years, Scarborough was treated as though it was under US jurisdiction. The American case is that the United States was “ the legal proxy for the Philippine people until full independence in 1946.” In this case, the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty could be interpreted to cover Scarborough.
In a recent testimony before the US Senate Armed Services committee, US Defense Secretary Carter was quoted as saying “…Scarborough is a piece of disputed territory that like other disputes in the region, has the potential to lead to military conflict…That’s particularly concerning to us, given its proximity to the Philippines.”
According to a report by some American newspapers, President Obama mentioned Scarborough Shoal to President Xi Jinping during their meeting last March 31 at the Nuclear Security Summit. The New York Times reported:
“The stakes are so high that Mr. Obama warned the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during the recent meeting in Washington not to move on the Scarborough Shoal or invoke an air defense zone, said an American official who was briefed on the details of the encounter and spoke anonymously because of the diplomatic sensitivities.”
China has also been threatening to declare an ADIZ over the entire South China Sea. An Air Defense Identification zone ( ADIZ) is airspace over land and water in which the identification, location and control of civil aircraft is performed ostensibly in the interest of national security. The ADIZ may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to a potential hostile aircraft. However, such zones is supposed to cover only undisputed territory and do not apply to foreign aircraft not intending to enter territorial airspace.
The building of new airbases and upgrading of air defense capabilities indicate that China has a long term strategy by which it would establish effective control over the sea and airspace throughout the South China Sea. There is no indication that China now has the capability to impose an ADIZ over the South China Sea as long as the United States is prepared to cross this “red line.”
Someday, a country will draw a red line somewhere in the South China Sea. And another country will cross that red line. If no one retreats, we will see a conflict nobody wants. That is how wars begin.
Creative writing classes
a.) Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids and Teens on Aug. 6 and Aug. 20 (1:30-3pm)
b.) Feature Writing Class for Adults with Jo-Ann Maglipon on Aug. 13 (1:30-5:30pm)
Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.