Luzon’s northernmost Y’Ami Island is only 165 miles from Taiwan. China’s planned invasion of Taiwan threatens Philippine security. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will gain control of nearby air and naval bases. From there it can grab more Philippine reefs, isles, fishing grounds, and offshore minerals.
Taiwan’s conquest is a CCP goal. So is South China Sea (SCS) occupation. A Beijing law obligates CCP to retake Taiwan as a renegade province. Another law authorizes the China Coast Guard to fire at, board, or expel foreign vessels from the SCS. The laws spring from the CCP’s concocted ownership of surrounding seas supposedly stolen by imperialists last century.
Taiwan and Luzon form part of the CCP’s First and Second Island Chains of Defense. Since 1989 China has occupied, fortified, or blockaded nine features in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. These are Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi), McKennan (Hughes), Calderon (Cuarteron), Mabini (Johnson South), and Burgos (Gaven) Reefs; Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal; and Sandy Cay within Pag-asa territorial waters.
In 2016 President Duterte halted joint PH-US patrols and exercises in Philippine EEZ within the SCS. He also set aside The Hague’s outlawing of China’s sea expansionism. Those emboldened China to escalate aggression. Give the bully an inch and he’ll take a mile.
The CCP buttressed Panganiban, and stationed fighter-bombers at Kagitingan and Zamora. Coastguards machinegunned Filipino fishers away from Panatag and Sandy Cay, and menaced oil drillers at Recto (Reed) Bank. A Chinese maritime militia steel trawler rammed an anchored Filipino wooden boat nearby. Two years in a row hundreds of Chinese trawlers swarmed Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef.
China taunted Filipino sailors. In 2019 a warship aimed weapons at a Philippine patrol near Malampaya offshore rig. Two others zigzagged then stopped within Tawi-Tawi territorial waters at Sibutu Strait. In 2022 a spy ship trespassed inner waters between Palawan and Panay. In November, near Pag-asa two gunboats cut a Philippine vessel’s towline of Chinese rocket debris. Last week a gunboat and two militia trawlers shadowed a Philippine Navy vessel at Recto.
All the while Chinese coastguards harassed Filipino civilian boats resupplying Marines at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. Squadrons barged into Philippine airspace. Reconnaissance craft scoured Benham Rise for submarine routes.
Manila’s recourse is to find common cause with defense ally America. Washington aims to avert or repel CCP occupation of Taiwan. Being rushed is relocation to Arizona of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s specialty chips factory. Okinawa and Guam are prepped as watch and stage-off points near Taiwan. Four new US temporary bases inside Philippine camps will complete the circle.
Washington also wants SCS kept open for US$5 trillion in annual global commerce. In 2019 US defense chief Mike Pompeo warned China against annexing any more SCS features from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Malacañang has located the four bases. One will be in twin sites in Cagayan facing Bashi Channel, the narrow passageway between Taiwan and the Philippines to and from SCS and Pacific Ocean.
Second is in Isabela facing Benham.
Third is Zambales, 123 miles from Panatag.
Fourth is Palawan 120 miles from Panganiban. China’s outposts in Panatag and Panganiban are 700 miles from its mainland.
The four will complement five existing US bases. One is an infantry reservation in inland Nueva Ecija; four are airbases in Pampanga, Palawan, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro. All nine operationalize the 2014 PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Taipei and Manila used to view Beijing’s threats separately. The two issues have now joined.
As Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez told senators: “[Our] mandate is to secure and defend sovereignty and sovereign rights, such as freedom of our people to fish in own waters. The Philippines shares the vision of like-minded nations to ensure freedom of navigation and a peaceful, stable and free Indo-Pacific.”
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.