Chinese vessel shadows Kalayaan Island town

2 years ago

A Chinese coast guard vessel shadowed Kalayaan Island town for days until last Wednesday, staying as close as four nautical miles off the coast while a supply boat was unloading its cargo, Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. said yesterday.

The boat left at 7 a.m. Wednesday, or a day after Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in Manila to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. China’s territorial spat with the Philippines and other Asian countries was not on the meeting’s agenda, but it was discussed in bilateral meetings between President Aquino and US President Barack Obama.

Bito-onon said the unnamed Chinese vessel steered menacingly close to the coast while utility boat M/L Queen Seagull was unloading its supplies.

The boat came from mainland Palawan loaded with goods and supplies for Kalayaan’s more than 200 inhabitants.

While the islanders were used to seeing Chinese vessels in the area, they were troubled by the latest sighting because the Chinese boat stayed very close to the island town’s southwest coastal waters for more than a week.

Pag-asa island, the second biggest island in the disputed island group next only to the Taiwan-occupied Itu Aba, is just 12 nautical miles from Zamora (Subi) Reef, now transformed by China into a 400-hectare artificial island complete with support facilities including an airfield and ports.

The Queen Seagull was laden with sacks of rice as well as construction materials needed for the town’s infrastructure development.

The town plans to set up solar powered streetlights, build more classrooms and acquire materials for greenhouses to boost its vegetable production.

Troops assigned in the island municipality are always on red alert, especially at night.

Chinese coast guard vessels were also harassing a Marine outpost at the Ayungin Shoal. The Marines were stationed on a grounded Philippine Navy logistic ship, BRP Sierra Madre.

Meanwhile, Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan said a vital world trade route is at stake in the territorial dispute among several countries over islets, shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

“Whichever nation dominates this body of water controls the shipping routes through which a large part of global trade passes,” he said.

Citing data from the US Energy Information Administration, he said oil transported through the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea “is triple the volume that passes through the Suez Canal.”

“The South China Sea and the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea are at the heart of the most important energy trade route in the world. They connect the Strait of Malacca to the rest of Asia and serve as the shortest sea route between African and Persian Gulf oil suppliers,” he added.

“In other words, whoever controls this sea route will control energy trade in the region – and most probably the world,” he stressed.

Ridon pointed out that a third of all seaborne oil passes through the South China Sea route.

“There’s about 15 billion barrels of oil and petroleum products en route to Asian markets through this body of water every day. Large quantities of liquefied natural gas and coal also pass through this route,” he said.

“Under this context, we can understand why Washington wants to play a major role in the West Philippine Sea dispute,” he said.

US President Barack Obama and President Aquino have called on China to stop further reclamations in disputed islets and reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Source: Philippine Star