Lessons from Paracel Pt V: The Panda Trap

The over lapping claims between the Phillippines and China in the South China Sea

The over lapping claims between the Phillippines and China in the South China Sea

The Philippines could be baited into entrapment by China for taking the atolls such the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal issues to the United Nations tribunal for arbitration, where China claims the process and jurisdiction is defective and inadequate. As such, China could use the opportunity as a bad excuse to unilaterally annex Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys.

South China Morning Post story:

Beijing is laying a trap for the Philippines in disputed waters, experts say, waiting for an excuse to seize territory in the oil-rich Spratlys

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 2:26am
Alan Robles in Manila

Protesters in Manila. Photo: AFP
With tension running high between the Philippines and China because of their maritime dispute, one wrong move could see Beijing grabbing all the disputed islands, say regional experts.

“The danger really is a short, sharp conflict due to miscalculation,” said Chito Santa Romana, former ABC News Beijing bureau chief who was once shortlisted to become Manila’s ambassador to China. “The margin of error for our forces is really very small.”

The danger really is a short, sharp conflict due to miscalculation. The margin of error for our forces is really very small CHITO SANTA ROMANA, FORMER ABC NEWS BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF
Speaking at a forum yesterday on “Understanding 21st century China”, Santa Romana warned the Philippines should be wary of China’s “cabbage” [encirclement] strategy.

“The idea is for us to make a mistake – to ram their ship, to arrest a fisherman, to fire at a fisherman – if we do any of those, I think we lose an island,” he said.

“If we make another mistake, I think the Chinese will continue to probe the weak spots, and if they can achieve it, they would want to control all the disputed islands before a decision [by the arbitration committee on the law of the sea] is made. So even if they lose the case, there is nothing more to talk about.”

On Saturday, the Philippine military used a small supply vessel to evade larger Chinese coast guard ships blockading a tiny Filipino garrison on the Second Thomas Shoal.

The shoal is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets that sit near key shipping lanes, surrounded by rich fishing grounds that are believed to lie atop huge oil and gas reserves. A small number of Philippine soldiers are stationed on a navy vessel that was grounded there in 1999 to assert the Philippines’ sovereignty.

Marwyn Samuels, a China specialist from Syracuse University who has been a visiting professor at Beijing, Tsinghua and Nanjing universities, said Chinese efforts to block Philippine supply ships could be dangerous.

“Too much of this is not easily predictable, accidents will happen, somebody will make the wrong move at the wrong moment and that’s going to escalate, so yes, it’s worrisome,” he said.

He pointed out that while China has the military advantage, “from a political point of view it’s difficult [for China], because of the Americans”.

Manila and Washington are poised to sign an agreement that will increase the US military presence in the Philippines.

Beijing’s efforts to block the supply ships has stirred anger in the Philippines. A brief rally was held by left-wing activists yesterday in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila to protest “the harassment” by Chinese coast guard ships of the Philippine resupply ship.

About 60 members of the Akbayan political party, which is part of the ruling coalition, carried a mock yellow tape measure during the protest, yelling “China do you know how to measure?”

At a meeting of senior Asean officials in Myanmar that ended on Monday, Philippine foreign undersecretary Evan Garcia stressed the importance of a code of conduct in the South China Sea after Manila filed a case with the UN on Sunday challenging Beijing’s claim to most of the disputed waters.

He told the forum yesterday that the Philippine filing “manifested our commitment to a peaceful and durable means towards a lasting solution to the disputes in the South China Sea anchored on the rule of law.”


This is highly probable, especially after the recent Russian intervention into Ukrainian domestic politics which saw a referendum was quickly held in Crimea that resulted 96.7% Crimeans voted to return to Russia. Swiftly, Crimea was brought back into Russian Federation amidst international opposition, particularly from United States and the European Union.

Existing oil and gas fields, multiple claims and China's 'imaginary territory' dubbed 'Nine-Dash-Line' in South East Asia

Existing oil and gas fields, multiple claims and China’s ‘imaginary territory’ dubbed ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ in South East Asia

China could be motivated to blatantly make lame charges against the Philippines, where the annexation of the Second Thomas Shoal is highly probable. The area around Second Thomas Shoal is rich with oil and gas, a source of energy China is craving for.

China is already using any thinkable ways to bully nations around the region. Ever since 2008, China has been blatant several times in the deployment of PLA Navy (PLAN) task force within the imaginary and unsubstantiated ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ as a projection of power and force.

As the Philippines turned to the International Court of Justice at the Hague to resolve after being bullied by China for over 15 years, by no means the opportunity is also maximised by forming a fresh relationship with United States, especially in military co-operation

International Press story:

Philippines Invokes Law to Fight Chinese Muscle

Analysis by Richard Heydarian
Reprint | | Print | Send by email
MANILA, Apr 2 2014 (IPS) – After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked permanent estrangement with China by pressing ahead with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague, while ironing out a new security pact with the U.S.

The primary goal of the Philippines’ latest manoeuvre is to put maximum pressure on China amid an intensifying territorial dispute, which has raised fears of direct military conflict. Manila has been alarmed by the increasing assertiveness of Chinese paramilitary vessels, which have reportedly harassed Filipino fishermen straddling the South China Sea as well as threatened Filipino troops stationed across varying disputed features in the area.

There seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.
In the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, for instance, recent weeks saw Chinese paramilitary forces imposing a tightening siege on Filipino troops, who have struggled to receive supply materials from their military command headquarters in the Philippines.

Since 1999, the Philippines has exercised effective and continuous control over the disputed feature, which falls well within the country’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But China is seemingly bent on seizing control of the shoal, which is very close to the hydrocarbon-rich waters off the coast of the southwestern Philippine island of Palawan.

From the perspective of the Filipino leadership, China is not only threatening the country’s territorial integrity, but also its vital economic and energy security interests in the South China Sea. In addition, the Philippines and its principal military ally, the United States, share similar concerns over China’s accelerated military spending. Beijing has focused on enhancing the country’s naval capabilities, part of China’s short-term goal of consolidating its territorial claims in the Western Pacific – and its long-term ambition of becoming the preeminent naval power in Asia.

“We will resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening session of the National People’s Congress in early March. “We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age.”

Recognising the apparent futility of existing diplomatic efforts, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III effectively abandoned his earlier attempts at reviving bilateral channels of communication with the top Chinese leadership when he chose to provocatively liken China to “Nazi Germany”.

“At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” exclaimed Aquino, during an exclusive interview with the New York Times, where he compared China’s rising territorial ambitions in the South China Sea to Nazi Germany’s annexation of the then Czechoslovakian territory in the early 20th century.

China was outraged by Aquino’s comments, dismissing him as an “amateurish” leader with little appreciation for the delicate art of diplomacy and conflict management. At this point, there seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.

With diplomacy taking the back seat, the Philippines has stepped up its efforts to welcome a greater American military presence on its soil. Under the proposed Enhanced Defence Cooperation, the Philippines is offering the U.S. expanded access to its military bases in Subic and Clark. In exchange, the Philippines is seeking enhanced U.S. military aid, increased joint military exercises, and, potentially, even temporary access to American military hardware to counter China’s maritime assertiveness.

“The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] facilities with elements of the U.S. military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Philippine Constitution and laws,” explained the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND), which has strongly lobbied for deeper military relations with Washington in order to enhance the country’s “minimum deterrence capability”.

The Philippines’ direct legal challenge to China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, however, is the greatest source of tension in bilateral relations. In early 2013, the Philippines initiated an ambitious arbitration case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at The Hague, with the explicit aim of undermining China’s notorious ‘9-dashline’ doctrine, which accords Beijing “inherent” and “indisputable” sovereignty over the bulk of the South China Sea.

The Philippines contends that China, as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is obliged to respect the Philippines’ rights to exercise qualified control over features that fall within its 200-nautical mile EEZ. These include, among other features, not only the Second Thomas Shoal, but also the Scarborough Shoal, which was effectively seized by China after a brief military standoff in mid-2012.

In early 2014, China reportedly offered certain “carrots” in exchange for the Philippines’ decision to postpone its submission of its formal written complaint – known as ‘memorial’ in legal parlance – at the ITLOS. Beijing reportedly offered, among other things, mutual disengagement from the contested features such as the Scarborough Shoal, trade and investment benefits, and postponement of the planned Chinese imposition of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.

The more hardline factions within the Philippine leadership reportedly refused to entertain China’s offer, and convinced the Aquino administration to push ahead with the arbitration move.

“It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations,” said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who oversaw the filing (Mar. 30) of a voluminous memorial against China at ITLOS. “It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution grounded [in] international law.”

The Philippines hopes that its latest legal challenge to China will rally like-minded countries such as Vietnam and Japan as well as the broader international community behind its own cause. But the Philippines’ latest decision runs the risk of irreversibly antagonising China, which could, in turn, permanently undermine diplomatic efforts at peacefully resolving the South China Sea disputes, and pave the way for a military showdown.


United States would be more than glad to have its military units presence felt around the region. Particularly after China’s PLAN aggressive military manuevres March last year and in January. Currently, US Navy is using the Changi Naval Base in Singapore as its regional staging platform.

The live missile firing and oath taking ceremony at James Shoal exactly a year ago, where the Jinggangshan amphibious task force complemented with 1,000 armed marines, amphibious tanks and helicopters, shocked the international community.

James Shoal or Beting Serupai is 50 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak. China claims the incursion into Malaysia’s EEZ (as per defined by United Nations Convention Law of the Seas) as “Training exercise”.

ASEAN EEZ Vs China's claims over South China Sea with the imaginary Nine-Dash-Line

ASEAN EEZ Vs China’s claims over South China Sea with the imaginary Nine-Dash-Line

It is also an oil rich area, which falls under China’s imaginary and unsubstantiated claims of the ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ within the South China Sea region.

Vietnam hours ago announced that US Navy guided missile destroyer and supply ship would be calling on Da Nang. Coincidentally, US Navy has been active in the PR with Vietnam, at the same time China announce naval expansion.

Than Nenh News.com story:

US naval ships to visit central Vietnam

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 22:28

Two ships from the United States Navy will visit the central city of Da Nang from April 7 to 12 for activities with the Vietnam Navy.
The guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard will dock at Tien Sa Port, the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City said in a release.
The six-day collaboration will focus on non-combatant events and skills exchanges in areas such as military medicine, search and rescue, diving and shipboard damage control.
Ship tours, band concerts, community relations events, and US-Vietnamese Navy sporting events are also planned.
US units participating in the naval exchange activities include the two aforesaid ships, staff from Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific and Commander, Destroyer Squadron Seven; sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five; a Mobile Diving and Salvage Detachment; and the 7th Fleet Band, Orient Express.
Since 2008, ,U.S. destroyers have visited Vietnam to tighten diplomatic ties between the two countries.
In 2010, the USS John S. McCain made its first port visit to Vietnam (Da Nang) to commemorate the 15th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam.


The force annexation of atolls within the Philippines EEZ as per outlined in the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) which span from Scarborough Shoal to Second Thomas Shoal is an exact repeat of the invasion of Paracels from Vietnam, forty years ago.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak is expected to start his three days official visit to Vietnam today. The recent development in the region, especially China’s aggressive projection of power and arrogance is expected to be raised.

NST story:

02 April 2014| last updated at 01:29PM

Najib to visit Pearce Air Force base, Vietnam

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who is scheduled to arrive in Perth tonight will visit the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) at Pearce Air Force base and review first-hand the multinational search effort for MH370 during his two-day visit to Perth.
He will hold a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to discuss issues of mutual interest particularly on the latest development and subsequent direction of the next phase of the Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.

Najib will also personally thank the Australian Government and the personnel involved in the operations, including the Malaysians.

After Perth, the Prime Minister is scheduled to undertake an official three-day visit to Vietnam from tomorrow.

He will be accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Agriculture and Agro-based Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as well as senior government officials from respective Ministries.

He is expected to witness the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Agricultural Cooperation that would further enhance collaboration between Malaysia and Vietnam in the field of agriculture.

He is also scheduled to pay a courtesy call on General Secretary of Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung,
Read more: Najib to visit Pearce Air Force base, Vietnam – Latest – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/latest/najib-to-visit-pearce-air-force-base-vietnam-1.545297#ixzz2xlZGfztt


What is more interesting is that Vietnam’s position to resolve the multiple over-lapping claims in South China Sea is for a multilateral dialogue amongst the claimant states. It is also Malaysia’s and the Philippines’ position also.

Multilateral dialogue could lead towards a multinational joint development programs for the hydro carbon fields, within the disputed and multi claimant areas.

On the other hand, China is only interested to resolve the matter via bilateral talks. It means that China would do separate bilateral talks with ASEAN countries. It probably means that China is able to arm-twist individual states into submission of her strategic plans for the region.

Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone as per the Malaysia Act 1984 and under jusrisdiction of the MMEA

Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone as per the Malaysia Petroleum Act 1984 and under jusrisdiction of the MMEA

That would likely translate to an agreement for a joint development program for specific hydorcarbon fields which is weighted towards China’s benefit.

If the decision of the Philippines to go to the Hague for a solution and China’s refusal to recognise the initiative as a preamble for a unilateral annexation of all hypo-carbon rich areas deemed the Philippines’ EEZ under UNCLOS, dubbed the ‘Panda Trap’, then there would be a fresh ‘Cold War’ conflict in the region.


It is expected that United States would stand aloud in the opposition of China’s unilateral annexation, which could witness the deployment of US military assets and combat units in aggressive manuevres as a reciprocity. China should not forget United States’ resolve to protect its hydro-carbon interests, translated in Operation Dessert Storm in February 1991 and the Invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Published in: on April 3, 2014 at 02:00  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Maybe China’s attention-seeking celebrity loudmouths like Zhang Ziyi and Chen Kun would like to comment about this? They seemed obsessed about the truth. So how come China is not telling ASEAN the truth about its imaginary line? Manila should provide measuring tape for these celebrities to measure the distance between the Philippines’ shoals and China’s nearest land mass then compare that distance with the diameter of their mouths when criticising Malaysia about MH370.

  2. Biggie Doggie,

    I think your ‘Panda Trap’ theory is getting more chronic. A Chinese national had just been kidnapped in Malaysian waters by armed aggressors believed to be Pinoys.

    April 3, 2014 12:41 am

    Chinese tourist and hotel worker kidnapped from resort in eastern Malaysia

    By Eileen Ng And Jim Gomez The Associated Press


    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Suspected Filipino insurgents seized a Chinese tourist and a hotel worker from a dive resort in eastern Malaysia and then fled by speed boat, Malaysian and Philippine officials said Thursday.

    The incident took place late Wednesday in the Semporna district of Sabah state, which is on the Malaysian side of Borneo island.

    Story continues below

    The raid underlines persistent security threats in Sabah, a popular tourist destination and dive spot that is a short boat ride from the southern Philippines, where Muslim militants and kidnap gangs have long found safe haven.

    It will likely add to negative sentiment in China over the safety of its citizens in Malaysia, which is still hunting for a jetliner that went missing March 8 with 153 Chinese citizens on board.

    Six men armed with pistols raided the Singamata Reef Resort, a midrange resort popular with Chinese tourists, according to a police report sent to the Associated Press by a security official.

    It said the Chinese victim was a 28-year-old woman from Shanghai, while the hotel worker was a 40-year-old Philippines national.

    A receptionist at the hotel declined to comment, as did police in the district.

    A Philippines intelligence official said the attackers were believed to be from the Abu Sayaff group, a militant Muslim group that claims allegiance to al-Qaida and has been implicated in other kidnappings for ransom in the region before.

    Last November, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants shot and killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from a resort in the Semporna area. The women was released a month later in the southern Philippines. Authorities didn’t say whether a ransom was paid. Such deals are normally not immediately disclosed to the media, if at all

    In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen crossed the porous maritime border with Malaysia in speedboats and snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia’s Sipadan diving resort and brought them to the southern Philippines, where the captives were later released in exchange for ransom.

    Militants in the southern Philippines are holding more than a dozen captives, including two European bird watchers who were seized from Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost Philippines province closest to Sabah, in 2012.

    Gomez reported from Manila. Chris Brummitt in Kuala Lumpur also contributed to this report.

    © The Canadian Press, 2014


    This is a bloody good excuse for PLAN to mobilise its units and assets in the affected area in the pretext of ‘search and rescue’ of Chinese national.

    What ever the outcome of the military ‘rescue’ operation, China probably “Would be required to continue and maintain presence” in islands which are part of the Philippines and Malaysia in the sordid excuse “To protect China’s shipping and nationals”.

    Especially when the Philippines and Malaysia “Unable to provide and guarantee security and safety”.

    Then again China mobilised their military might for lesser excuse that this. Paracels and Scarborough Shoal is classic new examples on China’s expansionary attitude and now an apparent greed.

    This development is something the ASEAN region (with the exception of Myanmar) should be very worried about.

    Expect the reciprocity of the West, especially US, UK and Australia. Maintaining safe passageway for maritime is utmost priority to them, especially when their biggest ally in the region, Singapore’s and Brunei’s security and economic bloodlife is being threatened.

  3. Lets look at the events and reactions.

    China lost 153 citizens in Malaysian airliner. “Malaysian govt are murderers!”
    China refuses ICJ. “Court hv no jurisdiction to resolve”
    China’s citizen kidnapped by Pinoys in Malaysian soil. “That local police fully put into effect rescue work on the basis of guaranteeing safety and to ensure the safety of Chinese tourists there.”Soon, China would mobilize navy. US would act accordingly.

    Najib praises Australia for being “True friends”. Britain sends a nuclear sub. Not a Type 45 destroyer or any other surface combat ship but an Astute Class SSN. What a convenient co-incidence!

    This freshly forged friendship amongst Commonwealth cousins would soon be mobilized in South China Sea, to protect Commonwealth cousins such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

    So it would be US-UK-Australia-NZ (Plus Malaysia-Singapore) Vs China. Vietnam and Pinoys also against China.

    A really interesting a game of ‘Risk’, in the projection of force to portray the balance of power!

  4. […] Coast Guard ships in the Senkaku Islands  is being reciprocated. This is far remote from the ‘Panda Trap’ being invoked onto the […]

  5. […] China is not careful, she would be lured into the United States’ counter measure against the ‘Panda Trap’. That alone is another sophisticated game of complex geo-politics games, where China’s […]

  6. […] analysts opined that China would not heed any calls by Vietnam nor the Philippines for aggression in disputed areas which under UNCLOS are EEZ territories of the two ASEAN nation, […]

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