Nobody agrees China controls S. China Sea except possibly Duterte, expert claims

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 25) — A maritime expert said Wednesday nobody agrees that China is in control of the South China Sea, with the possible exception of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

At the Ninth Annual South China Sea Conference hosted by Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, Greg Poling of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), when asked, disagreed with Duterte's claim that China is in possession of features in the disputed wateray.

“Is China in control of the South China Sea? No apparently not. The Malaysians decided in May that China’s not in control of the South China Sea. Vietnam is asserting right now that China is not in control of the South China Sea,” Poling said, apparently referring to the two countries' recent moves to resist Chinese aggressive actions in the disputed waters.

But for the Philippines, Poling made an exception.

“China may or may not be in control of large parts of the Philippine EEZ but that’s only because Manila has decided it is willing to allow China to be in control of large parts of the Philippine EEZ,” he said. "Nobody, with the possible exception of the current resident of Malacanang in the Philippines, has agreed that China has historic rights throughout the nine-dash line or control of the South China Sea."

Poling said it is seems to be the goal of China to effectively control the water and airspace of the South China Sea, but that has not been accomplished.

Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address said he will bring up in due time the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling invalidating China’s sweeping claim over the South China Sea. He has been repeatedly slammed for his warmer ties with China despite Beijing's refusal to observe the ruling.

But in the same speech, he defended his approach to Beijing regarding the maritime dispute — referring to his deal with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to allow China to fish in Recto Bank, which is part of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.

“China also claims the property and he is in possession. ‘Yan ang problema. Sila ‘yung [That’s the problem. They are] in possession and claiming all the resources there as an owner,” the President had said.

The AMTI has consistently monitored the presence of Chinese vessels in the area. The think tank has also revealed Beijing’s militarization of artificial islands it built in the global waterway, and the deployment of military forces there from 2018 up until the present.

Freedom of navigation backfires

Liu Xiaobo, director of the World Navy Research Center of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the US deployment of warships in the global waterway through its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) has provoked Beijing to beef up its military outposts.

“The United States believe the FONOPs and the military operations will weaken China’s military deployment and force China to withdraw its military facility. But the result is that the US FONOPs has provoked China with enough incentive to increase its military deployment,” he said.

Liu said US and China must review their policies on foreign nations’ passage in the disputed waters.

“If the US goal is to pressure China to withdraw its military deployment by demonstrating the US military’s strength, I think it’s a mission impossible,” he added.