Friday, March 28, 2014

Between Retreat and War

The Philippines continues to resist Chinese attempts to push the Philippines out of their possessions in the South China Sea. Manila wants to avoid either retreating or a major fight for their islands.

China is now blockading a small Filipino garrison on Second Thomas Reef, where they hold a grounded amphibious warfare ship to maintain physical control:

China told the Philippines that the continued presence of Filipino marines on Second Thomas Reef is intolerable and that China will deal with this violation of Chinese sovereignty. This is how China warns victims that an attack is coming and the Philippines is asking the United States for some backup here. The U.S. condemned the Chinese blockade but it is unclear what more the U.S. will do. The next step appears to be a tight blockade of the Filipino garrison to starve them out, as Chinese civilian and military ships blocked two recent efforts by Filipino supply ships to deliver food and water to the small garrison on Second Thomas Reef. The supplies were eventually air dropped, but that might also face interference and all this might be preparations to an outright assault by Chinese troops.

The Filipinos are also challenging the Chinese diplomatically with a legal case:

The Philippines will file a case against China over the disputed South China Sea at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague next week, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the increasingly tense waters for the first time.

Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit the waters in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), its team of U.S. and British lawyers said.

A ruling against China by the five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration could prompt other claimants to challenge Beijing, experts said. But while legally binding, any ruling would effectively be unenforceable as there is no body under UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts said.

China, which has refused to participate in the case, claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Sadly, China doesn't care about the legal case. Peking drew a nine-dashed line around the sea, and that's that, as far as the Chinese are concerned.

Explain to me again how ratifying the Law of the Sea will bind China to international norms and agreements?

Anyway, the Philippines needs to reinforce their garrison and build a more permanent structure. And make resupply easier.

We could certainly start supplying the garrison. But that could ultimately push China to just invade and get the capture of Second Thomas Reef over with in between our resupply missions.

Ultimately, the Philippines needs a stronger force on the reef.

Could we help Manila by carrying out a joint military exercise with them at Second Thomas Reef with our Marines and Navy construction units? We could build a "temporary" wooden structure on a concrete platform that we'd build "for the duration of the exercise?"

When we leave, the Philippines can do what they want with what we build. They would have a better position to hold. The Philippines could then start expanding their hold with better weapons to resist an attack.

My basic feeling is that China is willing to use force, but they want the level of force to be low enough that it remains below the threshold of war that might draw in America.

Yeah, this is where a reputation for resolve has an effect.

If the Philippines can build the military capability that compels China to go above that "incident" threshold to win a battle with Filipino forces, that might deter China from starting a fight.

Remember, Russia kept the whole conquest of Crimea at the "incident" level since Ukraine did not fight back. The Philippines needs to fight if they hope to hold their territory and if they hope to get American help. We'll help the Philippines--but we won't fight China to defend Filipino territory if the Philippines won't fight China.

If something isn't done soon to find a winning strategy between doing nothing and going to all-out war, the Chinese will simply land on the outpost and kill or capture the small Filipino squad holding the old LST, and China will continue their campaign to secure everything within the nine-dashed line.