Philippines likely to increase illegal resupply activities to grounded warship in Ren’ai Jiao in 2024: report

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

The number of illegal resupply activities to the illegally grounded warship in the South China Sea by the Philippines will continue to increase in 2024, an expert from Chinese think tank Grandview Institution warned based on a report the institution released on Tuesday.

According to the report, in 2022, the Philippine Navy conducted 11 illegal resupply activities to the Ren’ai Jiao (Ren’ai Reef), while in 2023, the number increased to 14 with more disguised approaches. 

On May 9, 1999, the military vessel BRP
Sierra Madre illegally intruded into China’s Ren’ai Jiao, or what the Philippine side calls as the Second Thomas Shoal, running aground due to purported “technical difficulties.”

According to the latest report of the Grandview Institution, the vessel
Sierra Madre has been grounded in the Ren’ai Jiao for a long time with over ten Filipino soldiers stationed and this has constituted actual encroachment of the Ren’ai Jiao. The Philippine military’s Western Command is responsible for commanding the grounded troops and the Philippine Navy sends ships to resupply the grounded troop. 

As for whether the number of supply missions to the Ren’ai Jiao by the Philippines will continue to increase in 2024, Liu Xiaobo, director of the ocean research center of the Grandview Institution, told the Global Times. He noted  before 2023, the Philippine Navy supplied the grounded military vessel once a month, but after that, the number of illegal resupply activities increased. 

The current trend shows that the illegal supply actions in 2024 will continue to increase, according to Liu. “In order to reduce sensitivity, the Philippines has rented civilian ships – instead of sending military vessels – to supply the stranded ship under the escort of coast guard ships, but the Philippines has been reportedly taking advantage of the opportunity of resupplying troops to transport illegal construction materials to the grounded ship and China firmly opposed such attempt.” 

In addition, the Philippines currently invites international media to board transport ships and openly hype up China’s so-called “interception actions” against them in order to gain sympathy and support from the international community. However, images accompanying the report show that compared to before, the main deck of the vessel
Sierra Madre as been partially reinforced and renovated in 2023, indicating that the Philippines had secretly transported building materials long ago. 

The report also points out that the Philippines has enhanced construction on the islands it occupied in the South China Sea. Apart from Ren’ai Jiao, the Philippines has illegally occupied eight islands and reefs in China’s Nansha Islands, namely, Mahuan Dao, Feixin Dao, Zhongye Dao, Nanyao Dao, Beizi Dao, Xiyue Dao, Shuanghuang Shazhou, and Siling Jiao. In June 1978, it unilaterally went beyond its territorial scope to set up the so-called “Kalayaan Island Group,” which violates China’s territorial sovereignty.

Before 2022, the Philippines conducted less construction on the occupied islands and reefs. But in March 2022, the Philippines built a new helicopter landing pad on the Mahuan Dao; and in May of that year, the Philippine Coast Guard established command observation stations on the Mahuan Dao and others. These command observation stations monitor surrounding vessels and report information to the Philippine Coast Guard headquarters, according to the report.   

In January 2024, Manila’s military chief Romeo Brawner told media that the Philippines would develop islands in all the nine islands and reefs in the South China Sea that it considers part of its territory to make them more habitable for troops. 

The Philippines Coast Guard recently claimed that China was attempting to build an “artificial island” in the Ren’ai Jiao. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Monday “the Philippines has repeatedly spread rumors, deliberately vilified China and tried to mislead the international community. None of those attempts will succeed.” 

Wang also urged the Philippines to stop making irresponsible remarks, face up to the facts and return to the right track of properly handling maritime disputes through negotiation and consultation. 

Liu believes the Philippines will continue to advance its confrontational South China Sea policy in 2024. He points out that main factors contributing to the escalation of the disputes between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea include the pro-stance of the Marcos government, the increased assistance from the US and its allies to the Philippines, as well as the joint defense commitment of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty that backs and encourages the Philippines’ provocative actions of encroachment. 

In addition, the Philippines has strengthened its maritime military capabilities in recent years, providing it with confidence, Liu said. But ASEAN countries will continue to be important forces in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea with China as resolving disputes through peaceful means and maintaining regional peace and stability remains a consensus between ASEAN countries and China despite the differences in their concerns and positions on the South China Sea issue, Liu noted.

Third aircraft carrier completes maiden sea trial

CNS Fujian during its maiden sea trial, which tested the carrier’s propulsion and electric power systems. [Photo by Ding Ziyu/For China Daily]

CNS Fujian, China’s third aircraft carrier, finished its maiden sea trial and returned to a shipyard in Shanghai on Wednesday afternoon, the People’s Liberation Army Navy said in a brief news release.

It said that during the eight-day sea trial, engineers and Navy sailors tested the carrier’s propulsion and electric power systems and achieved their goals.

The Fujian is now berthed at China State Shipbuilding Corp’s Jiangnan Shipyard.

Hardware and software tests will now take place on the carrier in accordance with its construction plan, the Navy said.

It said the Fujian had successfully completed mooring tests and the equipment installation process before its first sea trial.

One of the most important pieces of military hardware China is working on, the Fujian was officially unveiled in June 2022 in Shanghai when it was towed out of the Jiangnan Shipyard.

When commissioned, the gigantic vessel will displace more than 80,000 metric tons of water, making it the largest and mightiest warship any Asian nation has ever built, as well as the world’s biggest non-US aircraft carrier.

The ship will use an electromagnetic catapult to launch fixed-wing aircraft, giving it much greater combat capability than its two predecessors, which launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ramp.

The Navy currently operates two aircraft carriers — CNS Liaoning and CNS Shandong. Both have a standard displacement of around 50,000 tons and conventional propulsion systems.

Compared with its two predecessors, the Fujian is much bigger and heavier, and has a larger flight deck and smaller superstructure.

The Liaoning underwent 10 sea trials before going into service, and the Shandong conducted nine before its commissioning.

What signals are released in video call between Chinese, US defense chiefs?: Global Times editorial

China US Photo:VCG

Photo:VCG

On the evening of April 16, Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun held a video call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the request of the latter. This marks the first communication between the defense chiefs of China and the US since November 2022, and represents the latest development in implementing important consensus reached by the two countries’ leaders. The call lasted for over an hour and focused on several major and sensitive issues between the two militaries, including the Taiwan question and South China Sea issue. According to the US side’s response, the call went relatively smoothly, with Pentagon officials stating that it was an “important step” in keeping lines of communication open between the two military powers. But it is definitely not the last step, “there will be more.”

The leaders of China and the US are committed to stabilizing and improving bilateral relations. The military domain is crucial for ensuring the implementation of the leaders’ consensus, stabilizing the development of the two countries’ relations and preventing major crises. Observers have noticed that the Chinese side’s official statement regarding this call mentioned “at the request” of the US. Recently, the US has engaged in several provocative actions in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, including the visit of the “naval chief” of the Taiwan island to the headquarters of US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, the quadrennial military exercises involving the US, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, and the deployment of the Mid-Range Capability missile system by the US in the Philippines during joint exercises. Some opinions suggest that the timing of the US requesting this call is also aimed at gauging the Chinese stance and conducting some “firepower reconnaissance.”

China has made its stance clear and unequivocal: Its core interests will never be compromised, and the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of China in the South China Sea must be effectively respected. In both the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the US is an external force, and if it extends its hand too far in these directions and crosses the line, it will face resolute opposition from China. It’s well-known that the abnormal “freeze” in high-level military exchanges lasting for 18 months was one of the serious consequences triggered by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The US is well aware of this, and it should also understand China’s bottom line and red line.

Chinese people attach great importance to the concept of “the unity of knowledge and action.” While the US is discussing “crisis management” with China, it is also engaging in military cooperation with countries like the Philippines and Japan, with a clear intention of targeting China. If Washington continues to say one thing and do another, it is certain that what it wants is to maintain crackdown on China while demanding China promise not to resist, which is impossible. In other words, saying beautiful words to China while doing harm will not effectively set “guardrails.”

Washington’s credibility in communication and exchange with China still needs to be truly strengthened. This is also emphasized by China as “based on trust.” Many times, the starting point of US’ communication is not to meet China halfway, better manage differences and resolve conflicts, but rather make its allies more confident in how it handles relations with China, demonstrate the ability of the US to control US-China relations without losing control, thereby making its allies more confidently follow the US in fierce strategic competition with China. This also indicates that the comprehensive rebuilding of military mutual trust between China and the US is more challenging than the restoration of dialogue mechanisms.

The US wants to “manage crises” with China, and the most fundamental issue is to solve the problem of strategic perception, respecting China’s core interests and major concerns. It’s clear that Washington is now also “cautious,” wanting to repeatedly play the “Taiwan card,” but unwilling to draw fire onto itself, so it wants to control the Democratic Progressive Party, attempts to instigate the Philippines to stir up trouble in the South China Sea, but is worried about losing control of the situation. Therefore, it constantly sends out mixed signals. This contradictory mentality and opportunism are also reflected in the exchanges between the Chinese and American militaries. Of course, it is better to talk than not to talk. One of the benefits is to constantly make the US understand China’s bottom line and red line.

President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden emphasized during their recent phone call that two big countries like China and the US should not cut off their ties or turn their back on each other, still less slide into conflict or confrontation. This is not only China’s attitude, but also the expectation of the world. As the stable foundation of the development of China-US relationship, we hope to see substantial improvement in the military relationship. In particular, the US needs to show credibility, gain trust from China, and more importantly, gain trust from the world.

Manila violating commitments, denying previous agreement and abandoning understandings escalate Ren’ai Jiao tensions: Chinese FM

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

If the Philippines truly wants to ease tensions at Ren’ai Jiao through dialogue and communication, it needs to honor the commitments and understandings and stop provocations, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry Mao Ning said at a press conference on Thursday. 

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday called on China to talk to prevent more incidents like ramming vessels and the use of water cannons in the South China Sea, Voice of America reported.

The Philippines continues to talk with China, and is exhausting all options to speak to Chinese leadership so as not to heat up tensions in the waterway, Marcos claimed, according to media report. 

In response, Mao reiterated on Thursday China’s indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, Ren’ai Jiao included, and their surrounding waters.

She stressed that China has always been committed to managing the on-site situation of Ren’ai Jiao through dialogue and consultation with the Philippines. 

Mao reiterated that on how to deal with the current situation at Ren’ai Jiao, China’s position is clear-cut. First, by keeping its warship grounded at Ren’ai Jiao for decades running, the Philippines has been violating China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), especially Article 5 which says refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands and reefs. We demand that the Philippines tow away the warship at once and restore the Ren’ai Jiao’s state of hosting zero personnel and facilities.

Second, before the warship is towed away, if the Philippines needs to send living necessities, out of humanitarianism, China is willing to allow it if the Philippines informs China in advance and after on-site verification is conducted. China will monitor the whole process.

Third, if the Philippines sends large amount of construction materials to the warship and attempts to build fixed facilities and permanent outpost, China will not accept it and will resolutely stop it in accordance with law and regulations to uphold China’s sovereignty and the sanctity of the DOC.

The recent attempts by the Philippines to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao and Tiexian Jiao (Tiexian Reef) have seriously violated Article 5 of the DOC, said Lei Xiaolu, a professor of law with China Institute of Boundary and Ocean Studies, Wuhan University.   

In 1999, the Philippines illegally grounded the “BRP Sierra Madre” warship on Ren’ai Jiao under the pretext of “mechanical failure” and promised to tow it away. However, in recent years, the Philippines has acted in bad faith, claiming to build permanent facilities on Ren’ai Jiao. 

The Philippines believes the South China Sea arbitration case gives it a legal basis for the illegal occupation of Ren’ai Jiao, but in fact, the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration case has no jurisdiction to handle sovereignty disputes over Ren’ai Jiao as part of the Nansha Islands. Tiexian Jiao is an uninhabited high-tide feature within 12 nautical miles of Zhubi Jiao (Zhubi Reef) and is part of the Nansha Islands, according to Lei. 

If the Philippines’ activities are tolerated, the dispute settlement mechanism established in Article 5 of the DOC will be weakened, potentially reopening the “Pandora’s Box” of new round of island occupation by some countries, which will have a negative impact on regional peace and stability, Lei noted. 

China and the Philippines established several channels of communication on the South China Sea issue, the most important one being the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) established in 2016, noted Yan Yan, Direct of Research Center for Oceans Law and Policy, National Institute for South China Sea Studies. 

The hotline between China and the Philippines coast guards was established after then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China on cooperation between the two countries’ coast guard in 2016 and is the most direct means of communication between the maritime law enforcement agencies of the two countries. In August 2023, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela announced the abandonment of this hotline mechanism, saying they will no longer be communicating directly with their Chinese counterpart. 

In January of this year, the 8th meeting of the BCM was held in Shanghai. China and the Philippines agreed to “further improve the sea-related communication mechanism, continue to properly manage sea-related conflicts and differences through friendly consultations, and deal with maritime emergencies.” 

However, the Philippines’ actions on Huangyan Dao and Ren’ai Jiao have not been curtailed despite the consultation. It seems that the Philippines’ strategy is to use action instead of words and dialogue, to show its presence and attempt to change the status quo in the South China Sea, Yan stressed. 

China and ASEAN Foreign Ministers signed the DOC in November, 2002. 

For the past 22 years, the DOC has served as a crucial political consensus and cornerstone for maintaining peace in the region. China and ASEAN countries have successfully engaged in various constructive maritime cooperation, including marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication at sea, search and rescue operations, and combating transnational crime, in accordance with Article 6 which allows for cooperative activities pending a comprehensive settlement of disputes, said Yang Xiao, Deputy director of Institute of Maritime Strategy Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. 

Article 6 regulates cooperative activities among the parties concerned. These may include the following: marine environmental protection; marine scientific research; safety of navigation and communication at sea; search and rescue operation; and combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking of illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms. 

However, beyond the positive momentum of promoting cooperation between China and most ASEAN countries, there has been some sort of noise off and on for some time, especially the Philippines which has repeatedly violated its commitments and obligations, Yang pointed out. 

There is no doubt that “cooperation” is the most approved axiom paved by DOC for peace and development in the South China Sea … Any actions or intentions that undermine these commitments and cooperation should be firmly opposed by all parties to DOC and by nations dedicated to peace and prosperity, Yang noted. 

Global Times