October 26, 2015: Strategy Page
The Philippines and its closest neighbors are slowly losing control of their offshore waters to increasingly aggressive Chinese claims. The Philippines faces losing control of 80 percent of its waters in the West Philippine Sea while Malaysia loses 80 percent of its coastal waters off Sabah and Sarawak. Vietnam loses half its coastal waters while Brunei loses 90 percent. Even Indonesia loses 30 percent of its coastal waters facing the South China Sea. These losses include several known offshore oil and natural gas fields and a number of areas that have not been explored yet plus lucrative fishing grounds and control over vital shipping routes. China is going all this by ignoring the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty (as well as at least two other similar treaties. The widely adopted (including by China) 1994 agreement recognizes the waters 22 kilometers from land “national territory” and under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these "territorial waters" without permission. More importantly the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. While this agreement eliminated or reduced many of the existing or potential disputes it did not completely deal with all of them. Thus some nations keep violating the agreements, usually because they feel their claims supersede the international agreements. China is the most frequent offender. For example China claims that American electronic monitoring ships are conducting illegal espionage while in the Chinese EEZ. But the 1994 treaty says nothing about such matters. China is simply doing what China has been doing for centuries, trying to impose its will on neighbors, or anyone venturing into what China considers areas that should be under its control. China is not alone, but because China is pushing the limits of how the 1994 law can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) other nations with similar opportunities to lay claim to crucial chunks of the seascape are ready to emulate China if some of the more aggressive Chinese ploys actually work. This is one reason why China faces strong opposition from nations worldwide.
Thus while the United States recently announced that it will send warships and military aircraft through areas of the South China Sea that China openly claims as “sovereign Chinese territory” that does not seem to be stopping the Chinese from harassing Filipino ships and fishing boats in disputed (but legally Filipino according to the treaty) waters. This time the United States has said it will move within 22 kilometers of newly established Chinese bases in the South China Sea. China insists that these islands (some of them artificial and recently built) are “sovereign Chinese territory” but the rest of the world disagrees and China will, at the very least, be embarrassed by this American show of force. China will back off when the United States (or even Japan or Taiwan) move through disputed waters with warships but will continue to go after unarmed “intruders”. The Philippines and its neighbors need an ally who is willing and able to stick around and get China to back off. So far, such an ally has not appeared.
The Moslem separatist group MILF is working on implementing its recently signed peace deal for the largely Moslem areas in the south. There is a problem down there in that a sizable minority of southern Moslems (ten percent or more) want to hold out, and keep fighting, to establish a separate Moslem state in the south. MILF leaders know this is impossible because a majority of the people in the south are opposed. That includes a majority of the Moslems and the nearly all the non-Moslems in the south. Moslems are only eight percent of all Filipinos, and an even smaller proportion of the economic activity. MILF wanted control of more of the economy, which meant control of "ancestral Moslem areas" in the south that are now populated by Christians. The Christian majority refused to allow domination by Moslems in a larger and more autonomous Moslem south. MILF settled for a smaller autonomous area that had a Moslem majority. This issue is still a big deal for many Moslems and could still turn into an armed rebellion against MILF and the collapse of the plan for an autonomous Moslem area in the south. So far MILF has kept things under control. In part this is because of the thousands of soldiers and marines in Basilan taking care of the only large group of Islamic terrorists (Abu Sayyaf) in the country. These guys have not expanded much mainly because they are basically bandits with a veneer of Islamic radicalism. Abu Sayyaf is mostly about the money but they will cooperate with real Islamic terrorists as it suits them.
October 25, 2015: In the south (Basilan) a clash between an army patrol and about 40 Abu Sayyaf gunmen left three Islamic terrorists dead and four soldiers wounded.
October 21, 2015: In the south (Basilan and Sulu) two clashes with Abu Sayyaf gunmen left a soldier dead and a civilian wounded. Both clashes involved the Islamic terrorists attacking soldiers working on development projects.
October 20, 2015: In the south (Tawi-Tawi province) Abu Sayyaf released a mining company manager they kidnapped in 2014. It is a believed that a ransom of over $20,000 was paid.
October 19, 2015: In the south (Agusan del Sur) NPA gunmen murdered another mayor, along with his adult son. This killing is part of an NPA campaign to go after former NPA members who go on to become local leaders and organize defense (against the NPA) militias. The NPA is losing a lot of popular support and seeking to regain it any way it can.
October 16, 2015: In the south (Batangas province) NPA gunmen ambushed two off-duty soldiers and killed them. This was believed to be in retaliation for NPA losses on the 14th.
October 14, 2015: In the south (Batangas province) NPA gunmen clashed with troops and five rebels were killed. Two nearby civilians were wounded. Troops recovered four rifles.
October 10, 2015: China declared operational newly built lighthouses on two reefs in the South China Sea. According to China these lighthouses (not really needed in the GPS age) strengthen their claims on the surrounding waters.
October 5, 2015: In the south (Sulu) marines found and disabled an Aby Sayyaf bomb near one of their checkpoints.