While the Red Chinese haven’t invaded Taiwan as some have predicted – yet – they are making moves while the world is distracted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Two Philippine navy vessels, BRP Capones and BRP Malabrigo are currently facing two Chinese vessels, probably CCG 3103 and CCG 3305, in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.
Scarborough Shoal (15.07’-15,14’N / 117.44-117,48’E), also known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in Philippine Tagalog and Huangyan Dao in Mandarin Chinese, is currently subject to dispute between China and Taiwan, and the Philippines. After the Philippines’s initiation of arbitral proceeding in January 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) against China. Even though in July 12, 2016 the arbitral tribunal awarded the related case in favor of the Philippines, China has refused to accept the legal award.*
China has long claimed sovereignty over Scarborough and other shoals, reefs and barren islands in the West Philippine Sea. Scarborough Shoal sits inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone but is also part of the broader South China Sea. Beijing has relied on ancient maps to prove its historical ownership of a vast swathe of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal.
The war in Ukraine has opened new policy doors that were unthinkable just months ago observed Nikkei Asia’s Ken Moriyasu, Kim Jaewon and Cliff Venzon. The West's threats of massive economic sanctions -- a strategy known as "deterrence by punishment" -- failed to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching an all-out invasion.
With Russia's hard power on full display, countries across the Indo-Pacific region are revisiting their deterrence measures and weighing if those are enough to prevent a similar crisis in their neighborhood.
Nobukatsu Kanehara, a former Japanese diplomat and senior adviser to The Asia Group, said the discussion of nuclear-sharing and strategic clarity on Taiwan are two sides of the same coin.
"The lesson from Ukraine is that once war begins, it is difficult to stop. The discussion must center on how to ensure war does not break out over Taiwan," he said.
In the Philippines, the Ukraine crisis has also taken center stage in the presidential election. During a debate hosted by CNN Philippines on Sunday, six of the nine presidential candidates said the country needed to take a clear stand in support of Ukraine, rejecting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's suggestion of staying "neutral" on the conflict.
"We have nothing to do with Europe or whatever they are doing," the defense chief had said on Friday. "We are not near the borders of Ukraine."
In contrast at a campaign debate, presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying, "He is ready to die for his country. That's a true leader." The Philippines should join "peace-loving nations" in condemning Russia, Lacson said.
A former police chief, Lacson said before the debate that it would be dangerous if Russia was allowed to set a precedent by invading a territory and calling it its own. "It may happen to us, to our islands in the West Philippine Sea," Lacson warned, according to reporting by Moriyasu, Jaewon and Venzon.
While Philippine defense minister Delfin Lorenzana may wish to stay neutral with regard to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Forbes reports he has already signed a nearly $375 million deal to purchase sophisticated BrahMos anti-ship missiles from India. The arms sale will significantly improve the Pacific nation’s heretofore limited naval warfare capabilities at a time that Beijing is building up its military presence on islands in the South China Sea claimed by (and much closer to) Manila, apparently putting him in closer accord than it might appear with presidential candidate Lacson.
Is this Red China’s “hold my beer” moment when they take a cue from the Russians and the incursion at the Scarborough Shoal morphs from a low-level ongoing dispute into something bigger that could draw-in the United States?
Why wouldn’t they take advantage?
Back in November of 2021 we asked “Is Biden Capable Of Running A Two Front War?” Only time will tell if Red China sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to assert its longed-for Asian hegemony. As former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates put it, Joe Biden has been wrong on every major issue for the past 50-years. Based on his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, we (and the Russians, Red Chinese and Iranians) doubt Joe Biden’s ability to manage a two-front war to a successful conclusion, especially if Red China and Russia move in coordination with Iran.
* See Maritime Issues, Scarborough Shoal: Debunking Historical Myths, http://www.maritimeissues.com/politics/scarborough-shoal-at-the-turn-of-the-20th-century-debunking-myths.html
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