Scarborough Shoal a Precursor?
Image Credit: Philippine Navy

Scarborough Shoal a Precursor?


French philosopher Voltaire once wrote a story about the mad behavior of men going to war over a “few lumps of earth.” In Southeast Asia, there are numerous small and midsize conflicts between countries over temples, borders, islets, reefs, shoals, and even puny rock formations that disappear during high tide.

For example, Thailand and Cambodia are feuding over the ownership of the historic Preah Vihear temple and the four square kilometers of territory around it. The conflict intensified in 2008, which led to some deadly exchanges of fires between border troops. It strained the relations of two erstwhile friendly neighbors and, more tragically, it reinforced ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in their countries. Last February, renewed clashes resulted in lives lost on both sides.

For several decades, Singapore and Malaysia contested the ownership of several islands, namely Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, which are all strategically located at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait. Middle Rocks consists of two clusters of small rocks, while South Ledge is visible only at low tide. Fortunately, the International Court of Justice in 2008 recognized Singapore as the owner of Pedra Branca and gave Middle Rocks to Malaysia

The Paracel Islands, meanwhile, are being claimed by Vietnam, China, and Taiwan, while Indonesia and Malaysia have a longstanding dispute over maritime naval borders in the Malacca Strait, which has led to several coastal patrol detentions of fishing boats of the two countries. Recently, the decades-long maritime dispute in the Bay of Bengal, which involved Burma and Bangladesh, was finally resolved by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

The active flashpoint today is in the Scarborough Shoal, located in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. It’s a chain of reefs and rocks claimed by China, the Philippines, and Taiwan. China is accused of using its superior force to assert ownership of the territory. Its decision to dispatch oversized quasi-civilian boats near the shoal is interpreted by many Filipinos as an act of bullying and aggression.

But the main conflict in the region involves the resource rich Spratly Islands, which are being claimed by six countries: China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. Tension is permanently high in the area because of the military posts established by the claimants.  If the dispute isn’t resolved diplomatically today or in the near future, it could potentially trigger a broader conflict in the Asia-Pacific.

Could the little spats over Scarborough, the Paracels, Pedra Branca, and the Malacca Strait lead to a bigger clash over the Spratlys? Are they just a sideshow to the main event? Are they just a foretaste of the real tragedy that will befall the region if the Spratlys dispute explodes into a Southeast Asian War? Diplomacy and peace must be given the chance to succeed now.

Errol T
May 31, 2012 at 08:00

We would, assuming the PLA lands some troops in our islands. Otherwise, if it’s gonna be a naval action or air skirmish, the PLAN and the PLA can win by default :/

I really hope we got SAM’s and SSM’s in stock.

May 22, 2012 at 13:28

I tried debating with Chinese on this issue, but they keep spouting nonsense. They really believe their nine dash claim, which is the root of the problem in the sea region, is above international laws.

May 22, 2012 at 07:16

iamfree i know ignorance is time be sure check facts before you post comments from your propaganda booklet…china here is the threat, have you read any standoff between other claimant asean countries? its all about chinazi trying to build an empire,,the filipinos are not acting to be brave they are protecting what is ours,try to learn about the history of the phils, filipinos have fought spain,america and japan,all assistance will be appreciated but filipinos will stand up to china even without the backing of the us

May 22, 2012 at 02:45

China still lives in the past!
China’s claims are totally false ones.
A 10th century (long before 13th Century) Arab traveler al-Masudi mentioned about Luzon, Champa and Malay people’s domination on the seas!
As China’s own records reveal, when the 4th century Buddhist pilgrim Fa Hsien went to Sri Lanka, he travelled from China to Sumatra and then on to Sri Lanka in Malay ships! China was not a maritime power at that time.
The 13th century map hypothesis which China postulates is wrong as before 13th centuries the islands which China claims were under the control of Malay people!
South China Sea was under effective control of the Malay people!
Taiwan was a Malay majority island until the arrival of the Europeans which paved way to the massive influx of mainland Chinese into Taiwan who outnumbered the Malay people!

May 22, 2012 at 00:35

r u describing America which the world pirate and policeman combined together as one

May 21, 2012 at 17:36

Judging by the name, this guy is from the Phillipines – not “the West”.
If you read Al Jazeera you will find views that are more condeming on the Chinese actions here than you will in “western” media. Maybe you should wake up and smell the coffe – it is not Western media, but rather non-Chinese media.

May 21, 2012 at 17:26

look around you threat are just getting stronger everyday.. it is only that americans are backing the philippines, thats why filipino are pretending to be brave.. You cant have a long lasting as long as your enemy lurking around..

May 21, 2012 at 10:13

Bully china is behaving just like Imperial Japan of 1930′s. All of the neighbors around china must be prepared.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana.

May 21, 2012 at 05:11

If you are haunted by a vision of enemies all around, and live with the obssession of their elimination, you are not free and you will never live in peace.
Change your heart, look around you…

May 21, 2012 at 04:58

To keep the fact straight, The Philippines warship was there only for the first 2 days.

You know very well that the real tension was not at the shoal itself. It was in the streets of Beijing and Manila, as well as in the Cyberspace. It was there at these places we noticed deliberate spreading of rumors of war preparation. There weren’t any typical Western propaganda that fanned the flames as done by Global Times, Phoenix and even CCTV.

May 20, 2012 at 21:09

just like the saying
‘if you want peace, prepare for war’
yes, sometimes peace can only achieve by totally eliminating your enemy..

May 20, 2012 at 18:12

The author is right to raise the alarm. The Scarborough (as many other events last year) is a test.

How would the US react? Would ASEAN unity break? Would the rest-of-the-world care?

Peace relies on how the strategists in Beijing are interpreting the outcomes of the Scarborough “test case”. Perhaps they are reading The Diplomat too. So let’s contribute to preserving peace.

Earl Barnett
May 20, 2012 at 13:10

Am I the only one that thinks there is no conflict between the neighbor states? The only conflict is with the Chinese, and that includes Taiwan. They are too far away and have no legitimate claim, they just want something they need and are willing to take it by force if the rest of the world does not stand for what is right. It is a chance for the United Nations to DO THE RIGHT THING. Stand up BEFORE a war breaks out. Don’t be politically correct and want to divide the assets of Vietnam and the Philippines with China to “make nice”. There is the Law of the Sea that they signed, the Chinese just need to go home. If they want the wealth of the Philippines and Vietnam they should buy it, not robbery or theft.

May 20, 2012 at 11:26

typical western propaganda, China sent only Fishing surveillance ships while the philippines sent their biggest military warship. in the case of South China sea its the thug like tiny countries with the backing of USA are bullying China.

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