By Manny Mogato, News5 editor-at-large
(July 16, 2020) — The United States had drawn a red line in a rocky outcrop near its former large overseas naval base in the Philippines as a senior US State Department official has warned China against building an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary for the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said Washington is prepared to respond against Beijing’s plan to reclaim half submerged Scarborough Shoal, in what could be seen as an escalation of US position in the South China Sea dispute.
“Any move by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to physically occupy, reclaim, or militarize Scarborough Shoal would be a dangerous move on the part of the PRC and will have lasting and severe consequences for the PRC’s relationship with the United States as well as the entire region,” Stillwell said at the a Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Tuesday night.
The Washington-based security and foreign relations think tank hosted the 10th South China Sea forum, a day after the US State Department issued its strongest position on maritime dispute in the region, expressing full support on the arbitration ruling won by the Philippines against China in 2016.
Stillwell said Washington opposed Beijing’s “harassment of the Philippines or any other nation in the South China Sea, like the Chinese vessels aggressive actions in waters claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“We have made equally clear our opposition to any PRC effort to block access to Filipino fishermen and any move by Beijing to physically occupy, conduct reclamation at, or militarize Scarborough,” he said.
China seized control of Scarborough Shoal, or Panatag Shoal,in 2012 after Philippine Navy failed to arrest Chinese fishermen poaching in the rocky outcrop about 135 nautical miles west of Zambales, well within the country’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
China has been denying Filipino fishermen access to its traditional fishing ground, prompting the Philippines to file an arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. Manila won the case in a landmark ruling in July 2016, nullifying Beijing’s excessive claims based on its nine-dash-line historica claims.
Beijing has also harassed old-and-gas exploration in the Reed Bank, another area within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ in the South China Sea near Palawan island.
During the forum, Stilwell echoed State Secretary Mike Pompeyo’s statement that Washington stands by its commitment to Manila under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which covers the South China Sea. The position was a departure from the past position of US administration, warning China that any armed attack on Philippine forces in Scarborough will trigger an American response.
There were speculations China will also reclaim Scarborough Shoal as it planned to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. It had already an ADIZ in the East China Sea but the US and Japan continued to challenge it, sending patrols over the disputed islands in the area.
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