CANADA — Filipinos in Canada will join tens of thousands of their counterparts all over the world to stage demonstrations in front of Chinese embassies and consulates on May 11 to protest Beijing’s allegedly aggressive actions to take over a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The rallies are being called a global patriotic reaction to China’s recent aggressive encroachment on the Philippines’s Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over the small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal. The shoal, known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal but which the Chinese call Huangyan Island, is about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon, near a former U.S. navy base in Subic Bay.
The standoff in Panatag has also resulted in an online war between alleged Chinese and Filipino hackers, with the Department of Budget and Management website in Manila being the latest subjected to hacking.
Earlier, three other websites of the Philippines Government were also defaced with pro-China messages — the Official Gazette website (www.gov.ph), PCDSPO website (www.pcdspo.gov.ph), and the Presidential Museum and Library website (www.malacanang.gov.ph).
The cyber war started on April 20, when alleged Chinese hackers defaced the University of the Philippines website by posting pro-China sentiments over the Panatag Shoal tug-of-war.
This was immediately followed by retaliation from Filipino hackers who defaced several Chinese websites with their own form of patriotic protest.
Loida Nicolas-Lewis, national chairman of a Filipino-American good governance organization based in New York, called on Filipinos throughout the world to mount demonstrations. This developed as China’s FLEC 310 ship, its fastest and biggest ship currently in Scarborough Shoal, made a high-speed pass at two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila said. The incident was characterized by DFA officials as “bullying”.
The DFA said the Chinese ship made a dangerously close, high-speed pass at the BRP Pampanga and BRP Edsa as the Philippine vessels were turning over patrol duties in the area. The high-speed pass created a 2-meter wave that buffeted the two ships, the DFA’s report said.
Nobody was harmed, and neither of the ships were damaged. But the incident again underscored growing tensions in the Scarborough Shoal.
China’s Global Times, published by the government’s People’s Daily, reported in its April 25 editorial that China is prepared to engage in a small-scale war at sea with the Philippines: “China should select the most arrogant provocateur, conduct comprehensive strikes, and exert pressure economically, politically and militarily. If the water overwhelms China’s knees, other countries will find their necks in the water.”
China considers Panatag Shoal, located 124 nautical miles from the Philippines’s Zambales province, to be its “inherent territory” even though it lies more than 500 nautical miles from the nearest China port of Hainan.
Rodel Rodis, national president of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), called on the Global Filipino Diaspora Council, representing 12 million Filipinos in 220 countries throughout the world, to support the Philippines’s sovereign claim to Panatag Shoal, which has been on Philippine maps since 1743.
“A strong showing of support and solidarity by Filipinos in the Diaspora will impress on China that it is not just confronting a small country that it can easily bully, but one that has citizens scattered throughout the world who can mobilize and galvanize public opinion against China,” Rodis said.
Among those quick to respond to the call to wage a global protest against China’s bullying were Filipino organizations in Hong Kong, Canada and Australia.
Ted Laguatan, USP4GG national spokesman, also “called on all Filipinos and all those who believe in freedom and the right of every country to control its own destiny to join us in a global demonstration at Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States and around the world at noon on Friday, May 11.”
Meanwhile, Manila’s presidential palace Malacanang has appealed to Filipinos poised to protest Beijing’s aggressive actions in front of Chinese embassies and consulates abroad to behave in an “orderly and peaceful” manner.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail F. Valte said that in light of the government’s initiative to arrive at a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the ongoing maritime dispute, participants in the global protest action — slated for May 11 — should strive for temperate behavior.
“The government is doing everything that it can to keep the talks open and to continue to pursue our lines of discussion on the diplomatic front. These are private initiatives and the only appeal that we make to them is that they keep their protests orderly and peaceful,” said Ms. Valte, at a Palace briefing, according to media in Manila.
Nevertheless, she sympathized with what she deemed a “patriotic response” in support of the Philippine government taking a stand on its claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), including Panatag.
“Certainly [it is patriotic]. If they feel that their country is at a disadvantage, then this is their reaction to that,” said Ms. Valte.
“Nobody can really suppress their expression of their position on that issue… We cannot stop them from mounting these actions,” added Ms. Valte.
Ms. Valte emphasized that there should be no untoward repercussions from a peaceful protest action.
“The government is committed to taking the diplomatic track. We expect to pursue that track fully. But of course, these are private citizens that we have… Also the citizens of China also do express their thoughts on this matter and we do not take it against them,” said Ms. Valte.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Philippines’ recent standoff with China over the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands will be a test of the US government’s willingness to come to the aid of a small nation against Chinese aggression.
“Most importantly, it shall further enhance our security relations and, most importantly, demonstrate our unequivocal resolve to support each other against the threats of external aggression and the enemies of freedom and liberty,” Gazmin said in a speech.
Gazmin said that “as long-time and durable friends and allies” the Philippines and the United States had common obligations as embodied in the defense treaty, which must be rekindled not only in joint military and humanitarian exercises.
He did not specify what military equipment they were going to request from the US, but it is believed likely requests would be F16 jet fighters and warships.
Six nations fight over disputed territory
The Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over a small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal.
The shoal, known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal but which the Chinese call Huangyan Island, is about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon, near a former U.S. navy base in Subic Bay.
The dispute is one of a mosaic of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that pit China against the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The disputed territory known as the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea offers one of the region’s major potential flashpoints for the 21st century.
If conflict ever did break out there, no less than six nations could quickly find themselves in the midst of a bruising encounter.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and the superpower of China have all staked overlapping claims in whole or in part around the Spratly region.
All, apart from Brunei, occupy one or more of the islands backed up with military installations and the area is stage to frequent tense stand-offs between the competing parties.
Most of the islands are low-lying coral reefs and rocky outcrops, home to little more than a few sea birds. Some are so small they disappear at high tide, whilst others provide barely enough space for one person to keep their feet dry.
But these islands are more than just dots on a map. Their significance lies in what surrounds them: water or, more specifically, the 250,000 square kilometres (155,000 square miles) of the South China Sea.
Around the islands are some of the world’s richest fishing grounds. And underneath the sea bed there are thought to be massive reserves of oil and gas – both are valuable resources for what has been, at least until recently, an expanding, energy-hungry region.
Of significance to the wider world are the vital sea-lanes that traverse the area, transporting oil Middle Eastern oil to Japan and west coast America. Around a quarter of the world’s total shipping trade passes through the area every year.
War in the Spratlys could quickly have an impact on the global economy.