Scarborough Shoal: A Conflict Over Some Submerged Rocks?

While a joint US-Filipino Naval exercise is taking place off the coast of Luzon, the Chinese Navy is running their own exercise simultaneously in the region.

“China’s official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington’s door,” Chris Buckley writes for Reuters.

Tensions continue to grow between Beijing and Manila, both sides puffing their chests like teenagers about to go to blows.  They don’t really want to fight, not now, because after all…someone could get hurt.  In the great game of international brinksmanship, no one can afford to lose face.

Picture Credit: The Telegraph

What is all of this backslapping about?  Scarborough Shoal.  A friend was only half joking when he told me that about five rocks are visible on this reef at low tide.  The shoal is a strategically insignificant island located off the coast of the Philippines in the South China Sea, but of course there are deeper issues involved here.

Chinese Influence in the Pacific Rim

Scarborough Shoal is in the middle of a number of commercial shipping lanes which gets us a little closer to what this stand off is really about, a stand off that as silly as it may be, can erupt into a full blown confrontation with the war ships of China, the Philippines, and the United States all patrolling the area.

What this confrontation is really about is Chinese influence.  Not to be to blunt about it, but Beijing is presenting the United States with a fait accompli, throwing their balls on the table and seeing what America will do to check their threats of territory expansion.  It’s all part of a larger agenda regarding push and pull in the Pacific Rim.

New Battlefields

In a move reminiscent of the 2007 hacking of the Estonia’s government and banking websites by Russian hackers, the website of the University of the Philippines was sabotaged.  Chinese hackers left a map on the main page showing the area of the South China Sea that the People’s Republic of China claims with the message, “We come from China! Huangyan Island is Ours!”  Huangyan is the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal which the PRC stakes a claim to based on ocean charts dating back to the Yuan Dynasty.

In response, this Saturday a branch of the Filipino Anonymous group hacked several hundred Chinese government websites, shutting many down entirely.  Other Chinese websites were defaced with pictures of the Guy Fawkes mask as well.  It should be noted that the creators of the infamous “Love Bug” computer virus, Reomel Ramores and Onel de Guzman, were from the Philippines.  At least one of the two is rumored to be in the United States after having the charges against him dropped.  Whereabouts: unknown.

New Cold Wars and the Threat of Hot Wars

By the latest count, the Chinese have eight ships near the Shoal, the Philippines just one, an aging Coast Guard cutter donated to them by the United States.  There are even reports of Chinese fighters jets conducting fly-overs.  The Philippines may be slow to respond as their Air Force of some 380 aircraft has only about 90 that can actually fly.  One of them being the Vietnam-era aircraft that dropped a bomb on a terrorist pow-wow deep in the jungle a little over a month ago.  That is, if you believe the official story anyway…

By the way, that mid-night air raid turned out to be a failure.  The Abu Sayyaf/Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist meeting was hit, but the ring leaders such as Singaporean Abdullah “Muawiyah” Ali have popped hot for SIGINT hits since the attack.  The bodies of the others have not been recovered…

The Pacific Rim is the area to keep your eye on to stay on top of future conflicts that will surely come out of this region.  The People’s Republic is looking to expand their influence, if not their territory, and counter American sea dominance.  In the coming decades we will almost certainly see a few proxy wars.  If you look at where the United States is buying and building airfields in the Philippines and beyond, you can begin to get a feel for the direction we are heading in.