Senkaku Islands Disputes: Maritime Security Challenges for the Asia Pacific Region
1Trilateral Forum TokyoJapan-US-European DialogueAsia-Pacific Regional Architecture and Trilateral CooperationORGANIZED BY:The German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Tokyo FoundationSUPPORTED BY:Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and theDelegation of the European Union to JapanTokyo, Japan 8-9 June 2013SENKAKU ISLANDS DISPUTE:MARITIME SECURITY CHALLENGESFOR THE ASIA PACIFIC REGIONRommel C. BanlaoiChairman of the Board and Executive DirectorPhilippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR)Head, Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies (CINSS)Delivered at the Japan-US-European Dialogue organized by the German Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates and the Tokyo Foundation held at the Europa House, Tokyo, Japan on 9 June 2013It is my great honor to present my humble thoughts on the Senkaku Islandsdispute and its implications for the maritime security in the Asia Pacific.I share the predicaments of the Japanese people on the Senkaku Islandsdispute in the East China Sea because the Philippines is also engulfed in abitter territorial dispute with China over the Spratly Islands in the SouthChina Sea.Currently, China has recently established a full operational sea control of theScarborough Shoal in the aftermath of the tense Philippines-China standoffin April 2012. The Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls PanatagShoal or Bajo de Masinloc Shoal, is located 123 nautical miles from west ofSubic Bay. The shoal, which became the target range of American militaryforces during the cold war while in Subic Naval base, is apparently withinthe Philippines’ 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS).But China argues that the Scarborough Shoal belongs to China by virtue ofhistoric rights and effective jurisdiction. China calls it the Huangyan Island
2located 472 nautical miles away from Hainan province but within its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.By sending its Marine Surveillance Vessels (CMS) Number 84 and Number75 in April 2012 with a fleet of at least 12 fishing boats from Hainan, Chinawas able to establish its foothold in the area.The Philippines no longer deploys its Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) shipsin the Scarborough Shoal to avoid unintentional violent conflicts withChina. Filipino fishermen are also discouraged to fish there as a preventivemeasure.With a very limited military and law enforcement capabilities to protect itsclaims, the Philippine government submitted in January 2013 its maritimeclaims before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).Judge Shunji Yania, the ITLOS President, announced on 24 April 2013 thathe already completed the panel to hear the Philippine submission. ButChina vehemently rejected the submission and bitterly ignored the case thatthe Philippines filed before ITLOS.Meanwhile, China has increased its para-military presence in the SouthChina Sea. While China convinces us to believe that it wants a peacefulexternal security environment, its deployment of para-military forces in theEast China Sea and the South China Sea is heightening security anxieties notonly among claimants and littoral states but also with other countries in theworld relying on the freedom of navigation in one of the world’s busiest sea-lanes.China’s latest worrisome activities are in the 2ndThomas Shoal, just around50 nautical miles away from the Mischief Reef that China occupied from thePhilippines in 1995. The Mischief Reef is currently fortified with a solidthree-storey building armed with gun emplacements, radars, windmill, solarpanels, basketball court and an extended solid platform suitable for ahelipad. The Mischief Reef can serve as an effective stop over, refuelling,and rest station of Chinese warships and civilian maritime vessels cruisingtowards the East China Sea, South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and beyond.Like the Senkaku Islands dispute, my fear in the South China Sea is the hugepotential of a military conflict against the backdrop of China’s increasing“reactive assertiveness” to pursue its excessive maritime territorial claims.Though all parties involved in maritime territorial disputes want to avoid anymilitary confrontation with each other, recent developments in the SenkakuIslands, Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands have increased the potential forescalation of conflicts in this highly contested maritime domain.
3In the Paracel Islands, Vietnam accused China for attacking a Vietnamesefishing boat on 20 May 2013. In Senkaku Islands, Japan Coast Guardrevealed that three China Marine Surveillance vessels (Haijian 15, 50 and66) entered the water in the East China Sea on 13 May 2013. Chinese StateOceans Administration even ordered Japan ships sailing around SenkakuIslands to leave the area.In the Spratlys, China deployed three of its CMS vessels accompanied by 10fishing boats in the 2ndThomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) on 10 May 2013 andasked the Philippine government to remove its grounded ship in the area.In fact, China wants the Philippines to vacate all its occupied land featuresin the Spratlys.These are just some of the recent incidents in disputed waters thatincreasingly create the risk of violent clashes that are inimical to themaritime security of the entire Asia Pacific region. Avoiding violentincidents at sea is therefore essential to maintain peace and stability in thisvery dynamic region.However, overlapping fishing activities and increasing maritime patrols ofparties around the waters of the Senkaku Islands and the Spratly Islands canraise the possibility of accidental maritime clash that can lead to violentincidents. An unintentional accidental clash can lead to unintended armedskirmishes that all parties do not want to occur.The recent tension between the Philippines and Taiwan over the killing on 9May 2013 of a Taiwanese fisherman on the contested water demonstratesthe risk of a potential violent conflict that can happen in the maritimedomain. Involvement of the public in the incident due to Asia’s risingmaritime nationalism can complicate the situation. Inciting popularnationalism in maritime territorial disputes can be counter-productive infinding peaceful resolutions.How to avoid violent accident at sea, particularly in the contested area,should loom large in our strategic thinking, policy-making, and tacticaloperation. A violent accident in the disputed waters of the East China Seaand the South China Sea can be the tipping point of unintended armedclashes that can severely threaten maritime security, peace, stability andprosperity of the Asia Pacific region.Thank you very much for your attention.