MANILA—China is bullying the country again, says Mario Lawit, a jeepney driver who is trapped at his operator’s garage in Sta. Mesa, Manila because of the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine for more than 40 days now.
“Maraming beses na itong ginawa nila na para bang sila na ang mamay-ari sa lahat na bansa sa Asya,” said Lawit while waiting for the release of his assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) because of Covid-19 pandemic. He and a number of his fellow drivers from Mindoro are stranded in Manila because of the lockdown.
Mario Lawit was reacting to reports that China has designated another disputed island in the West Philippine Sea, the Fiery Cross Reef, which has become a heavily fortified island base, as its center while the Philippine government has no recourse but to file yet another objection.
On Thursday, April 30, the Philippines through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a statement to China through its embassy in Manila objecting to what is called “illegal designation” of the said island as a regional administrative center in the hotly contested Spratly archipelago.
The statement states that “The Philippines calls on China to adhere to international law,” and reminding China of a 2002 agreement that urged contesting governments to exercise self-restraints and avoid actions that would escalate the disputes and undermine regional stability.
It may be recalled that the Philippine government has been protesting China’s self-declared territorial zones in the West Philippine Sea since 2012, when Beijing “unlawfully established” the Sansha City, which covers much of the South China Sea. The protest reads it “does not recognize Sansha nor its constituent units nor any subsequent acts emanating from them.”
But it seems nothing is enough for China. Last week, China established two districts to administer two disputed groups of islands and reefs, namely; Paracel islands and Spratlys, where China has turned seven reefs, including Fiery Cross, into missile-protected island bases. The Philippine government again protested the move of China stating its presence on at least nine islands and islets in an area it claims in the Spratlys.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China last week of “taking advantage of widespread distraction over the pandemic to advance its territorial claims,” in the South China Sea. The U.S.-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which monitors the territorial conflicts, noted that “Fiery Cross has been developed into one of China’s most advanced island bases in the waters with missile shelters, structures with retractable roofs, radars and runway.”
The countries of China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked for decades in an increasing tense conflict over the said groups of islands in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.