Philippines: China Keeps Probing

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April 10, 2013: China continues to maintain patrol boats at the Filipino Scarborough Shoal in violation of a deal made last June. Not only did Chinese patrol boats soon return to Scarborough Shoal but Chinese fishing boats are again operating there and even erected a flimsy barrier (with rowboats, rope, and fishing nets) across the entrance to the lagoon and dared Filipino fishing boats to cross it. Scarborough Shoal is in waters the Philippines claim (according to international law). The shoal is only 250 kilometers from the Philippines and 1,200 kilometers from China. Despite this, China claims ownership of Scarborough Shoal but has not yet used deadly force to assert that claim. What China is apparently doing is sending patrol boats from their fishery protection service to “protect their fishermen.” According to China, they are in compliance with the June deal, as they never agreed that Chinese fishing boats could not operate around Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines does not agree but has refrained from sending warships to the shoal and chasing the Chinese fishing boats away.

Chinese warships are more frequently showing up (outside Filipino waters) on training exercises. This is apparently intended to intimidate the Filipinos but is instead making the Philippines angrier and more determined to resist Chinese claims on Filipino territory. The problem is that the Philippines has very weak armed forces, especially compared to the rapidly growing Chinese forces. The Philippines is hoping increased military cooperation with their neighbors, and the United States, will keep the Chinese out. So far that is not working.

NPA violence was down a third in the first three months of the year. For the last decade the army and police have been making a major effort to destroy these communist rebels. The NPA is hurting, with many members sensing that the end is near. Yet a violent hard core is ready to fight to the death. In general, the communist NPA is feeling the heat of social change, as the government introduces more education, health, and economic development efforts in rural areas the NPA long considered their own. NPA gunmen are trying to interfere with these projects, with attacks on the troops that deliver the services or guard the civilians who do so. But six years after the government offered an amnesty deal to members of the NPA, and increased military efforts against those who would not surrender, the communist rebels are much reduced in strength. The communist rebels have been fighting, in one form or another, since the end of World War II, trying to establish a communist dictatorship in the country. They have not been very successful, despite a lot of economic and social problems they could promise to fix it they obtained control of the country. Enthusiasm for a "communist solution" has gone downhill since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European communist allies in 1989-91. This massive failure of communist states left NPA much weaker ideologically and vulnerable to the amnesty offer. Even NPA leaders admit that they currently have only about a quarter of their peak (in the 1980s) strength of 26,000 armed members.

April 8, 2013: The Coast Guard found a Chinese fishing boat that had run aground on a reef off the coast (in the Sulu Sea). Although 1,600 kilometers from China this reef is not claimed by China because it is near several occupied islands that are very much part of the Philippines. The twelve man crew of the fishing boat was taken ashore and now the boat must be removed as well. The crew will be prosecuted because they were in Filipino waters without permission.

Malaysian police intercepted a boat entering Malaysian waters. The 32 armed intruders in the boat were apparently from the Philippines but refused to identify themselves. They were believed to be reinforcements for the Filipino clan leader Raja Kiram who invaded the Malaysian province of Sabah and sought to take control of the area because of an old claim his family had on the area. The invasion force was repulsed last month. The fighting resulted in over 80 dead (nearly all of them Filipinos). Malaysia believes there are still at least a hundred of the armed Kiram followers in the area and military forces continue to search for these invaders. Meanwhile, over 5,000 Filipino civilians (most of them apparently working in Sabah illegally) have fled Sabah, many of them returning to the Philippines.

April 5, 2013: In the south (Negros Occidental province) police arrested two NPA members, one of them a local commander, at a checkpoint. Weapons and rebel documents were found in the vehicle.

In the north (Luzon) the NPA ambushed a police patrol and killed three policemen.

The U.S. and Filipino forces began 12 days of joint military exercises involving 8,000 American and Filipino troops, 30 military aircraft (including a dozen U.S. F-18 fighters), and three warships. In addition to the training value, the U.S. is involved in stuff like this to make it clear that it will honor a 61 year old treaty with the Philippines, which obliges the U.S. to help defend the Philippines from foreign threats.

April 4, 2013: Two unidentified jets flew near Filipino occupied territory in the Spratly Islands (which are claimed by China, the Philippines, and several other countries) 500 kilometers off the Filipino coast. The Philippines has no jet fighters of its own and was unable to send up an aircraft that could identify the intruders, who were believed to be Chinese.

In the south (Surigao del Sur province) an NPA attack on a banana plantation was repulsed by soldiers. At least one of the communist rebels was killed.

April 1, 2013: In Malaysia seven more Filipinos were charged with terrorism because of their involvement with Filipino clan leader Raja Kiram. 

March 30, 2013: In the south NPA rebels attacked Easter week religious activities, killing one soldier.

 

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