Why the Chinese want Scarborough Shoal

Landsat 7 image of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea by NASA, public domain
The Issue of Chinese invasion of Scarborough Shoal is a complex matter. For Filipinos it is about protecting sovereign territory, and its ability or lack thereof to do so from a position of strength. In the larger scale of geopolitics it is about controlling the sea lanes of the West Philippine Sea— or as the Chinese put it— The South China Sea, oh, and they want that much coveted title of “Superpower.”

For Filipinos, there has been no doubt that Scarborough is Philippine territory. Though this claim is not included in the Treaties of Paris, Washington nor the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Yet years of neglecting its Armed Forces, there really isn’t much to do anything about this Chinese invasion. So the Philippines has sought refuge in fighting for it diplomatically. The Philippines argues that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) backs up its claim. Scarborough Shoal no matter where you look at it on the map is far closer to the Philippines than to China.

The situation is made more complicated by this fact. The United States, who is the Philippines closest ally has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Also by the sheer fact that the Philippines is closely allied with the United States adds another dimension to the situation.

In recent weeks, China has been in a diplomatic row with the United States on two fronts. First the blind Chinese dissident, and via the Philippines, acting as a sort of proxy for the United States. There is really nothing that could simplify the matter over the diplomatic row. It is a complex, geopolitical web. This is the Chinese attempting to say, “We’re bad assess, and we’re big boys now so we can control the South China Sea”.

Presently, the International waters of the West Philippine Sea is protected by the United States 7Th Fleet. It has done so since the end of the Second World War. American military doctrine has shifted, and recognized that the next hot spot, and the next battle ground will be sea supremacy in this part of the world.

The USS Virginia, a United States attack submarine, and one of its most modern submarine surfaced West of Subic Bay in the Philippines. Subic was once an American Naval base. It is the American’s way of telling the Chinese: “We’re here, don’t do anything stupid.” It is a way for the Americans to say to the Filipinos, “We got your back.”

The truth of the matter is simple. He who fishes at Scarborough Shoal controls it. The Philippines is hardly equipped to go to battle over a small piece of territory, but for many Filipinos it sort of castrates the nation. And asks rightly so— Are we a nation or are we wimps? But are we willing to wage war on a shoal that so many parties say they control, but not really clear?

The Philippine Armed Forces focused its attention on internal matters. Its doctrine is fighting insurgency, and the political drama of the past 30 years further channeled this doctrine, and not to mention corruption. It simply is not equipped to deal with a very real, and very potent external threat. Crazy as it may sound, it could still take the territory lost of the Chinese, perhaps with careful planning, but the real question is, does the nation have balls to do it? Is it in the best interest of the Philippines to act, even if it meant losing? And losing bad?

The Chinese will not backdown from this. Saving face is important to the Chinese even if they are wrong. They would insist on taking Scarborough Shoal. There has to be a decisive victory, and one can not help but say that the solution must be both Military, and Diplomatic.

The Chinese want Scarborough Shoal because it wants control of the sea. It wants to show the world— and the United States that it is the big bad ass of the region and that Asia is their territory to own. It goes with the singular mindset that China is on its way to being a superpower. This Imperial ambition is frightening.

The external defense of the Philippines is weak. That has never been in doubt. The solution is first for the Philippine Military to refocus its doctrine, and rebuild. The second is for Congress to support the Armed Forces in such rebuilding. It would without a doubt take years to accomplish. The Aquino Administration’s push for a diplomatic solution is for the most part the correct action. But it doesn’t mean the Armed Forces shouldn’t refocus. The world is fast changing yet again, and only a nation so prepared to weather the storms of tomorrow will survive it.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • Juan

    Whatever the reason of China is, Life is still more important than that Isand.
    Because of this, Thousands, Millions or maybe Billions of Lives are at stake.
    By the looks of things, this could be the spark of another World War.
    I am a Filipino. I’m sorry but I think its better to give them that Isand,
    since they are really persistent to have it. Yes we have a Poor Country.
    Why? Because of our Greedy Politicians. We have a Corrupt Government.
    Yes, that Island is full of Treasures.
    If we did Win at claiming that Island, Who would benefit on it?
    We Filipinos? Think again.
    Only the Greedy Politicians and Corrupt Government will have the most out of it.
    As usual.
    “Wala pa naman tayong napala sa isla na yan.”
    What about the People who supposed to be fighting for it?
    We will still be Poor.
    And they (Greedy Politicians) are ready to risk the lives of their People for their own benefit.
    Imagine, if a war did happened.
    After that, so much lives have been lost and in the end,
    only the greedy bastards will have their hands on the prize.
    Nope, No way.
    We will not make that happen.
    We should give up that Island.
    For the Sake of our People, China’s People and also for the US’s People.
    So far, I think Philippines still have so much Natural Resources that is yet to be Discovered.
    Please, let them have it. That damn Island.

  • Thebigzhark2011

    Its so sad that our country can’t do anything now except to file diplomatic protests against Chinese transgressions. But I guess this is the right moment for us Filipinos to help each other move this country forward. Also the government should start building the armed forces and setting up our own defense industries so we would not depend on other countries. 

  • jomz Siman

    go get  that bad asses…. fucking chinese!!!

  • espoy

    If we can resolve this matter peacefully then go for it. If not, let our honorable government officials do their best to send troops for skirmishes with the invaders. But bear in mind that no war was really won without so great a sacrifice of innocent lives… God bless us Filipinos and Chinese alike.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    We can and must engage China in a naval skirmish over the Panatag Shoal if that’s how we can convince China that we are serious about our claim to Panatag Shoal. It will not lead to total war because China knows what will happen if that happens. We send our boats to the mouth of the shoal and shoot at any Chinese vessel that tries to enter.

  • Jon Limjap

    Well so far you’ve got:

    1. A pledge of patrol boats from Japan
    2. S&R boats from Australia
    3. A 2nd Hamilton class from the US on the way home
    4. A soft-loan agreement with Korea for brand new jets

    We’re stepping in the right direction military wise, but we must walk faster.

    • cocoy

      Agreed, Jon.