Beijing’s new kingpins taking aggressive maritime stance

(Philstar) China has intensified naval and coastal drills that analysts say typify Beijing’s new aggressive leaders. China again calls the moves part of its “peaceful rise,” but actually are expansionist so troubling neighbors.

Southeast Asia Sea that is called "The East Sea" in Vietnam, "The West Philippines Sea" in Philippines

Completed last weekend was a high-publicity naval operation to the outer limits of Beijing’s “nine-dash line” territorial grab of the South China Sea. Alongside it was the merging of five civilian armed agencies into one heavy-duty coast guard to assert control over the disputed zone.

The naval maneuver was openly provocative. From Sanya base in Hainan Island a four-ship fleet sailed 870 miles to James Shoal, 50 miles from Malaysia’s coast and within its continental shelf. The ships proceeded to Mischief Reef, 130 miles from the Philippine coast within its continental shelf, but 800 miles from China. Before returning to port the fleet conducted blue-water exercises at the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Taiwan.

The websites of China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy and state news agency Xinhua carried up-to-date reports on the 11-day operation that started March 19. Highlighted was the flagship, an amphibious landing vessel. Featured too was the simultaneous pledging by the ships’ crew “to defend the South China Sea, maintain national sovereignty, and strive towards the dream of a strong China.”

Hong Kong’s Sunday Morning Post quoted Beijing naval expert Li Jie as saying: “The intended message by the PLA Daily and other official reports was to tell the world that, no matter what speculation was made by neighboring countries involved in territorial disputes with us in the South China Sea, our navy will still conduct patrol and training missions there. It’s to show our determination to defend our ocean territory.”

Founded on undisclosed “ancient maps,” Beijing’s nine-dash line encompasses nearly all of the South China Sea. Encroached are coastal waters of Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Manila has brought the issue for arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The UNCLOS grants coastal nations 200-mile exclusive economic zones, which China trespasses.

Quoting another naval observer, Prof. Ni Lexiong of Shanghai, the Post said China also has dispatched more ships to the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which Japan also claims and calls the Senkakus, in the East Sea. In late 2012 China fortified the Subi Reef in the 200 or so Spratly Isles, also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. The moves quickly followed Xi Jinping’s ascent in November as head of the Chinese Communist Party and the Central Military Commission.

On the day Xi also took over the presidency last March 14, the National People’s Congress legislated a unified coast guard. Merged were the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS), the Border Control Department, the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, the Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau, and the Maritime Safety Administration. The five used to be under distinct ministries, vying for funding and influence. Their rivalry led to numerous encounters with neighbors, earning for them the moniker of “the five dragons stirring up the sea.”

That the five were fused into the CMS, under the State Oceanic Administration, shows China’s economic-paramilitary end. By posting civilian vessels to disputed areas of the South China Sea, Beijing can claim to be non-provocative, yet just as aggressive. The Economist last week quoted the think-tank International Crisis Group as analyzing that the merger could open China to joint coast guard exercises with other countries. But such peaceful hope quickly was dashed when Beijing announced that three CMS vessels in the Diaoyus were planning a landing party at “an appropriate time.” The unified agency, it bragged, had become an unstoppable dragon “full of strength from head to foot.”

In calling for China to become a maritime power, President Xi wants to be seen as different from predecessor president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao. Both had been criticized for “weakness” in avoiding confrontation. In contrast, Xi is one of the princelings, aggressive scions of communist party elders who rose up the ranks through nepotism. Before his ascent, Xi’s fellow-“Crown Prince Party men,” though all lower-ranking, were known to overrule sub-ministers and local administrators. Shanghai’s Professor Ni said, “As someone from the princeling background, Xi is more assertive and will certainly take a tougher stance on the issues in the East and South China seas.”

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A very intriguing reaction of reader Bella Ramirez to my piece last week on the visita iglesia:

“My parents were from Pakil, Laguna. I’m glad you mentioned the Virgen de Turumba, as I am a witness to one of her many miracles.

“Sensing the coming War, my father had three crates of canned foods ready when on Dec. 8, 1940, after picking us up from school, we evacuated to Pakil at 4 p.m. on trucks. Japanese soldiers arrived. Their captain had the menfolk locked up in the San Pedro de Alcantara church. That night, the captain said, a very small lady with long hair and regal garment told him to release the prisoners for they were all good men. My father and nine-year-old brother were among them. The next morning the captain was awestruck when, looking up the altar, he saw there the regal, longhaired lady, the Virgen de Turumba.

“Mother sewed clothes for the Virgen, who was ‘picky’ with what she wore. There were days when a particular garment would fit her perfectly and days when it would be too loose or too tight.

“Pakil has a public swimming pool with water coming also from the mountain; some say it has healing power.”

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GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc


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