By Sara Fabunan
MANILA – Despite Malacañang’s efforts to downplay the ongoing conflict in the South China Sea, Beijing on Thursday continued its aggressive stance on the issue following a statement from a high-ranking military officer asking the Chinese government to put up “maritime and air spaces” there. The latest development happened even as Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing was conspicuously absent during the 114th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs Thursday morning, an affair usually attended by all diplomats stationed in Manila.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said Ma was “out of town” and instead sent Chinese Senior Col. Chen Fagming in her behalf. Zhang said Ma would also not be able to attend the 85th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army on July 31 in Beijing. Ma’s absence has fueled speculation that Beijing is slowly distancing itself from Manila due to their spat in the South China Sea. People’s Liberation Army Maj. Gen. Lou Yuan, meanwhile, suggested to Beijing that it establish three maritime spaces and three air spaces to underscore China’s military presence in the South China Sea.
“We didn’t clearly define these three maritime spaces in the past, but they will be clarified from now on,” Luo said. The “air space” or air identification zone, meanwhile, will be tasked to identify and monitor any aircraft flying over Chinese territories. “The air identification zone serves mainly to identify what model the aircraft is, whether the aircraft is a civilian one or a military one, what country the aircraft belongs to, and so on,” Luo said.“The defense zone is our country’s air territory, where any hostile aircraft will definitely be shot down if they are trespassing.”
Lou said the classification criteria for the “air spaces” would be set up in accordance with international standards and formulated with references to “relevant” rules and regulations.
“In this way, the defense tasks of the garrison command can go by the book and follow rules and regulations with the reasons, advantages, and controls justified,” he said. Luo said the establishment of the garrison aimed to “maintain an effective deterrence against those countries with inordinate ambition towards Beijing’s national territories.”
“After establishing defenses in Sansha City, China is bound to arouse a new round of ‘China’s military threat theory’ in the neighboring countries, which we should just disregard,” he said. The fishery administration and the Navy, according to Lou, are responsible for protecting China’s fishing maritime territories and managing conflict in the South China Sea. Beijing’s standoff with Manila at Scarborough Shoal may have sparked China’s aggressive claim over the islands in the South China Sea. Last month, it established Sansha City to administer control over the three major islands in the South Sea—the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfiled Bank–despite strong objections from Manila and Hanoi.
The city government, which is located on the 2.13–square km Yongxing Island, has a small airport, a sea port, roads, a clinic, a post office, a radar and an observatory. Its establishment was followed by the establishment of a military garrison and the deployment of troops from the PLA.
In his speech during Foreign Affairs’ anniversary, President Benigno Aquino III said talks of a possible armed conflict over the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea would only escalate the tensions in the region. “Let us reiterate: our interest is a peaceful resolution of this conflict,” the President said in an interview with Joyce Pangco Pañares.