September 18, 2011

This Weekend’s News: For the Philippines, Growing Anxieties in the South China Sea

Yesterday, The
Washington Post
reported that some in the Philippines have expressed
increased concern with China’s growing energy exploration in the waters off the
coast of the Philippine island Palawan. The Post report is compelling and worth citing at length:

When China’s largest offshore
petroleum producer launched a $1
billion oil rig
this summer from Shanghai, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban,
the commander of Philippine military forces 1,500 miles away in the South China
Sea, began preparing for trouble.

The drilling platform, said China,
would soon be heading in the general’s direction — southward into waters rich
in oil and natural gas, and also in volatile fuel for potential conflict.


“We started war-gaming what we
could do,” said Sabban, a barrel-chested, American-trained marine who, as chief
of the Philippines’ Western Command, is responsible for keeping out intruders
from a wide swath of sea that Manila views as its own but that is also claimed
by Beijing.


When CNOOC took delivery of the new
high-tech rig in May, Sabban took fright at Chinese reports that it would start
work at an unspecified location in the South China Sea. With only a handful of
aging vessels under his command but determined to block any drilling in
Philippine-claimed waters, he came up with an unorthodox battle plan: He asked
Filipino fishermen to be ready to use their boats to block the mammoth rig
should it show up off the coast of Palawan, a Philippine island from whose
capital, Puerto Princesa, the lieutenant general runs Western Command.

China and the Philippines have had longstanding
disagreements over the Spratly islands, which both states lay claim to. Yet
earlier this year Manila and Beijing signaled a move toward cooperation when
Philippine President Benigno Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to
settle their disagreements peacefully. But one has to wonder how difficult
reconciliation will be given what seems like increasingly nationalistic
rhetoric on display among South China Sea claimants. This seems to be the case
in the Philippines. According to the Post:

The winner of
this year’s “Miss Palawan” contest
was 18-year-old Sarah Sopio
Osorio, an accounting student who entered as the representative for Kalayaan,
as the Philippines calls the Spratlys. She won after a spirited speech in favor
of Philippine claims. Osorio doesn’t live in Kalayaan but does visit for a
month each year with her parents, who work in the local government of Pagasa
island. The trip takes three days by boat from Puerto Princesa: “I vomit all
the way,” the beauty queen said. Nonetheless, she says, the Philippines must
hang on to its territory against “greedy” Chinese demands. She’s in no doubt
about what’s fueling China’s appetites: “Oil is the only reason. That is it.”

Vietnam has likewise seen anti-Chinese demonstrations erupt
following instances when the Chinese navy has seized Vietnamese fishing trawlers allegedly operating in contested territorial waters. This kind of domestic pressure could
chill peaceful negotiation if public outcry becomes severe. It is unclear if
that is the direction all this is heading. Nevertheless, it should be
front and center in the minds of policymakers charged with navigating competition
in the South China Sea.   

This Week’s Events

Today at 9AM, CSIS will host an event on the EIA's
International Energy Outlook 2011
. At the same time, SAIS will have a
discussion on Coal and India's Low
Carbon Development: Today's Trends and Future Scenarios
. At 1:30 PM, head
over to the Wilson Center for Perfect
Storm? Population Pressures, Natural Resource Constraints, and Climate Change
in Bangladesh
. End your day with Partnership for a Secure America and their
event 21st Century
Nuclear Challenges: Policies, Priorities, and the Public Role

On Tuesday at noon, the Society for International
Development will host Water
Resources and Food Security: Meeting the Demands for a Limited Resource

On Wednesday at 9 AM, the Institute for Policy Studies will
explore Energy
Finance: Perspectives from the Experts
. At 1 PM, the House International
Relations Committee will hold a hearing on China's
Monopoly on Rare Earths: Implications for U.S. Foreign and Security Policy

where Christine Parthemore will testify!  

On Thursday at 9 AM, the National Bureau of Asian Research
will discuss Asia’s
Rising Energy and Resource Nationalism
. At 7 PM, head over to Politics and
Prose where Daniel Yergin will discuss his new book, The Quest:
Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

Finally, on Friday the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
will look at District
Energy: Essential Infrastructure for Energy-Efficient Communities
beginning at 10 AM. Head over to SAIS at 12:30 PM for A Wild Solution for Climate Change:
How the Planet's Biology Can Make a Difference