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Rogue at Ren’ai Reef

Aug 06 , 2015
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

The Philippines has made two provocative moves against China regarding the South China Sea lately: It sued China at the Hague international court of arbitration, and it attempted to transport building materials to the dilapidated military vessel that has been stranded for 16 years at China’s Ren’ai Reef in order to build a helicopter platform.

The Ren’ai Reef is Chinese territory, and has Chinese stone stele and other symbols of territorial sovereignty on it. Though the Philippines has altogether invaded and occupied eight Chinese isles and reefs since the 1970s, it has never dared to take the Ren’ai Reef as its own territory. There is no territorial dispute over the Ren’ai Reef, though the Philippines has always been coveting it.

In May 1999, a tank-landing ship of the Philippine navy, a second-hand vessel that had served the US Navy since in 1944, thrusted itself into the Ren’ai Reef, claiming that it “had to go aground at the reef flat on the northwest side of the Ren’ai Reef thanks to a leaking bilge”. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a diplomatic note immediately afterward, and made solemn representations repeatedly following that, requiring the Philippines to haul the stranded ship away instantly. The Philippines did promise to haul it away as soon as possible. But it has kept the vessel there on various pretexts. Small teams of Philippine soldiers have taken turns to stay on the ship. They work a two-month shift, and receive logistic supplies accordingly. Meanwhile, the Philippines dispatched military vessels to send materials, drove piles to consolidate the broken ship to prevent it from sinking, seeking to expand its military presence at the Ren’ai Reef.

China’s unilateral forbearance and restraint out of goodwill and humanitarian considerations, however, have been taken as signs that it is easy to bully. So the Filipinos have become even more insatiable. According to media reports, the Philippines furtively transported concrete and steel to Ren’ai Reef, tried to reinforce the hull and deck of the stranded ship in the dark of the night, attempting to build a helicopter platform on it. This move is intended to encroach upon Chinese sovereignty and compromise the safety of other Chinese isles around it. Of course China will not let it have its way.


The Philippine moves at the Ren’ai Reef have aroused increasing indignation in the Chinese public. People from all walks of life have voiced concerns, presented suggestions, and urged the government to take effective measures and solve the problem as soon as possible. Their proposals include: convening a special press conference about the Ren’ai Reef issue, making public the Chinese diplomatic representations to the Philippines at the time and the latter’s statement promising to haul away the ship as soon as possible, and informing the international community about the ins and outs of the matter; and urging the Philippines to haul the stranded vessel away before a specific deadline. If the Philippines refuses to act, China can hire a tugboat company and haul the vessel away, and ask the Philippines to pay the bill. In one word, the Philippines must be told that its shabby ship has stayed on China’s Ren’ai Reef for 16 years without good reason, going far beyond the Chinese people’s endurance. Now the matter has to be settled. Manila can never blame Beijing for not warning it in advance.

That the Aquino III administration has dared to be this bold and reckless on the Ren’ai Reef and in South China Sea — and in outrageous disregard of China — was based on two bumptious judgments. One is that it takes advantage of people’s sympathy for the weak when they are not aware of the truth, and thus brazenly play the game of “the weak bullying the strong”. The other is that it has assured itself the United States will back it. The US government has openly stated it does not take sides on the South China Sea issues. But some high US officials and generals frequently have made remarks at variance with their government’s stance. They either claim “the US will not abandon allies in the South China Sea area”, or blame China by insinuating it is“bullying the weak”, greatly emboldening the Philippines, making it forget who it is.

We believe the American public and those in offices of power who respect truth will not endorse the Philippines’ rascally flip-flop, let alone connive at it, after they are properly informed about the truth of the matter.

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