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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on The Philippines



Update No: 097 - (26/06/12)

Fishing in troubled waters
China’s assertiveness in its dispute with ASEAN neighbours over control of the South China Sea has drawn first blood with the death of a Filipino fisherman after their fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel within Filipino waters, but in an area claimed by China. Three fishermen were rescued but four are still missing. The growing belligerence of China in ignoring international boundaries set under the UN Law of the Sea Convention may have more to do with the power struggle currently underway in Beijing, ahead of the expected leadership change, than with anything else, but it is worrisome nevertheless.

As we have reported elsewhere, it is not only the downturn in China’s economy that is causing angst among China’s regional neighbours; indications of political instability and infighting ahead of the expected leadership changes, due in October, are leading to unpredictability in China’s behaviour.

Within China’s political framework, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – which embraces land forces, navy as well as air force – has always been a contender for political power. It used to be that the PLA was the army of the Chinese Communist Party (not, as is usually the case – an army of the state); a fact forgotten by many in the run up to the Tien An Mien Square Crisis,( the 23rd anniversary of which was remembered this month).

Now, however, it is the army that appears to want to control the party through the pro-military faction on the Chinese Politburo.

Armies like to fight wars – or at least conduct a few skirmishes and when you have an army that is over 3 million strong, a restive force that size does nobody any good – especially not in China. So in the run-up to the 2012 ‘elections’ in China (elections where there is only one candidate for each position, may we remind you) it is perhaps not surprising to see a new boldness on the part of the military. This has been manifest in two areas – against democratic Taiwan which the PRC claims as a renegade province. This despite the fact that while certainly there was ethnic migration from China to Formosa, as it was then known, from the 16th century onwards, Taiwan was never properly assimilated into China and in the latter years of the 19th century, both China and Japan were vying for political control of the island.

And then there is the South China Sea. In recent times both Vietnam as well as the Philippines have been engaged in a series of brushes over control over flyspecks on the map (see inset).

These brushes have now turned deadly when, in late June, a Chinese vessel ‘accidentally’ rammed a Philippine fishing boat north of the Scarborough Shoal. The Scarborough Shoal is a series of reefs off Pangasinan Province in north-western Luzon and, according to UNCLOS maps is well within the Philippines 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. China is a party to UNCLOS but does not recognise claims when it comes to the South China Sea; rather it claims the entire sea for itself.

One fisherman died, three remain injured and four fishermen are missing in this latest incident. This represents the first time in recent memory that these ‘games’ have taken a deadly turn. Worse still, the Chinese vessel did not stop to help rescue survivors.

In seeking to justify its action, the official China News Agency issued a statement stating that Chinese officials had ordered its naval vessels to target Filipino vessels that ‘hang around’ Scarborough Shoal and don’t leave.

The present dispute began on April 8 when Chinese vessels blocked Philippine patrol vessels to prevent the arrest of Chinese fishermen caught poaching sharks and collecting rare clams and corals at Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

All naval vessels from both countries were supposed to leave the area after an agreement had been reached on June 15 between Manila and Beijing, for a mutual withdrawal. The Philippines complied with the agreement. China did not and left seven government vessels outside the lagoon to reassert Chinese sovereignty.

The Chinese position has become even more strident since the sinking with Chinese officials claiming that it was a matter of policy for Chinese naval troops to board and search Philippine government ships as well as private fishing vessels that are within the area claimed by China. According to a spokesperson for the PLA, ‘China’s Navy would not hesitate to use deadly force against its enemies. Our Navy has the absolute ability and the absolute confidence to use arms to defend our country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and maritime rights.’

Strong words indeed but very revealing about the mindset of China’s military machine.

At the same time that Beijing is claiming it wants a peaceful settlement of its dispute with its neighbours, it is refusing to accept mediation by any international tribunal under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. It claims rather than ancient maps ‘prove’ the islands in the South China Sea belong to China. The problem with that one is that other countries have similar maps showing that the areas claimed by China belong to them. The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994 was supposed to put an end to these competing territorial claims.

Furthermore, China has again upped the ante by placing the three disputed island groups – the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Scarborough Shoals – under the control of the city of Sansha in Hainan Province.

The United States is concerned about any developments in the South China Sea that would put in jeopardy the right of innocent passage by either commercial or military vessels but has stopped short of taking sides in the dispute. The newly appointed US Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas Jr. has reiterated Washington’s position to the Philippine press saying Washington ‘has been very clear on our commitment to support a resolution of these claims in a peaceful manner at the negotiating table.’ All very well and most certainly very diplomatic, but hardly words that would give much public comfort to President Aquino and his administration. It is to be hoped that behind closed doors, Washington’s words are a little stronger.

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