Security analysts expect China to continue building its “great wall” in the South China Sea despite the Philippines’ friendliness under President Duterte and Chinese talk of giving Filipino fishermen conditional access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal off Zambales province.
“Despite the initial agreement to allow fishermen [to go back to] Scarborough, it is not clear what’s China’s stand in the disputed areas … which leads us to believe that there has been no change in China’s position. They will continue to build their great wall in the sea. They will not give up their claim in the South China Sea,” Chester Cabalza, a professor at National Defense College, said on Sunday.
“I think that President Duterte has made the determination that he can cut a deal with China like fishing access to the Scarborough Shoal based upon an assumption of Chinese goodwill and the desire in Beijing to negotiate in good faith. But where that idea comes from I am not entirely sure,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Amti).
Amti estimates Beijing has “created [1,248 hectares] of new islands” in the Spratlys. Each artificial island hosts a military base that is expected to be fully operational by next year.
The military installations will allow China to carry out its Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, a military doctrine used to deny foreign militaries access to a certain area.
By using A2/AD, China is denying other militaries access to the South China Sea and impinging on other countries’ freedom of navigation.
Poling told the Inquirer on Friday that China “has completed hangars base, three full regiments of 24 fighter jets at each of the three biggest islands it occupies including Mischief Reef.”
Poling said “recent history” would indicate China’s likely behavior even toward its newest friend.
“China has not shown one shred of willingness to negotiate with any Southeast Asian claimant as an equal member of the maritime community,” he said.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea.
Despite its ties with Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, China has flexed its muscles against them in their maritime disputes, Poling said.
“Why do we assume that all of a sudden everything’s going to be different?” he said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where an estimated $5.3 trillion in global trade passes annually.
In an action brought by the Philippines, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July that China’s claims had no basis in international law and that it had violated the Philippines’ rights to fish and explore for resources in waters within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
China rejected the decision and the Philippines agreed to direct talks last week to resolve the dispute. But Cabalza warned that China would seek to dominate the Philippines in those talks.