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The Spratly Islands: Why We Need Them

By: Ted Huntington


The next major conflict we have may very well be fought in the South China Sea. The combatants would be China and America. The winner will have control over the little known Spratly Islands. Right now, if you ask anyone, American, Filipino, or whomever,you will hear, "Sprat who?" The same people who can tell you yesterday’s Stock Market closing DOW average, or can tell you who scored the winning touchdown in the last Red-skins game, will have no idea what you are talking about if you mention the Spratly’s.


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Maps by Travel Click here for a map of this location>

My first discovery, that led to a long-term interest in the Spratly’s, started in 1969, after returning from three years in Japan. I followed news about them ever since, but it was a rare occasion to see any mention at all in the newspapers, or even the Philippines Free Press. The Chinese, however, have been aware of the atolls for some time, and are now making it their business to eventually take over all of them, claiming they all belong to China. They claim to own the South China Sea, right up to and including some of the islands adjacent to the Philippines.They know better, but their strategy is to intimidate all the other countries who claim ownership of some or all of the islands. If they are successful in scaring away all their competition, they will be able to dominate the entire South China Sea without fighting a war. If they succeed at that, they will control the shipping lanes used by virtually every country of the world.

"Location, location, location!" is the motto of real estate agents, universally. It is evenmore important in the case of the Spratlys. Their location is so strategic, it is worth fighting over if it comes to a showdown. If the Chinese are allowed to dominate that sea lane, they could and would be ruthless in their stranglehold of all shipping. They could charge any price they want to allow ships to pass safely, if at all. The surrounding countries – Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan – would all die on the vine unless they sell themselves to China. That must never be allowed to happen. That is why everyone should wake up and smell the coral. These islands and their immense potential, is well worth preserving for the smaller countries who need them the most, and have legal right to them. Ang mga Pilipino hindi dapat mag damit kagawa nang uniforme ni Mao Zedong!

If there is anyone who takes this lightly, or doesn’t care what happens to the Spratly’s, listen to these facts:

  1. In the late 80’s , a Chinese gunboat blatantly attacked a Vietnamese ship and
  2. killed over 70 ship’s hands to discourage their plans to claim any islands.

  3. The Chinese are systematically occupying other islands clearly within the
  4. legal boundaries of other countries.

  5. In 1995, the Chinese boldly took over Mischief Reef, an island in Philippine territory. Mischief Reef lies well within the Philippine’s 200 nautical mile limit, set by Inter-National Law . The size of the huts they built were irrelevant. The Chinese were testing the waters to see how the Filipino’s would react. Luckily, they reacted quickly and sent patrol ships out to confront them and blew up one of the shacks. The US government called them back, requesting they not provoke an international incident . I believe it was good that the Filipino boat opened fire on the building. It was an unmistakable message to the Chinese that they would respond to Chinese encroachment.

  6. Piracy has been a serious problem in the South China Sea, but it is strongly suspected that reports of piracy are either scare-tactic propaganda by the Chinese, or are actual pirate attacks supported by them to scare away smaller claimants. Knowing the communist tactics, I believe the latter.

The US government is trying to keep a low profile in respect to the Spratly’s. They are acutely aware, though, of the economic and military significance of those coral reefs. As real estate, they are worthless. They are, for the most part made basically of coral , and many of them disappear when the tide comes in. They also have palm trees, and little else. The Chinese , however, know only too well the political, military and economic value of owning these reefs. Not only that, but there are potentially many trillions of dollars worth of oil and natural gas deposits under that area. Why should the neighborhood bully be allowed to take everything for him or herself?

If there is anyone naïve enough to think that the communists would share any of that with anyone, you better stop dreaming. What the Chinese won’t take by sheer brute force, they will get by sheer brute deception and fabrication.

If you remember nothing else about the Chinese, remember this: They know what they want, and they have absolutely no compunction whatsoever of using any means to get it!

If the Spratly’s were distributed equally between the corresponding countries, based on the international law of exclusive economic zones inside their respective 200 (nautical) mile limits from their shores, the Philippines would control one of the largest shares. China will never recognize any other country’s sovereignty in this respect, any more than they will recognize Taiwan’s independence.

The dichotomy of the Chinese communist system, is that their totalitarian system is its greatest strength in that it can do anything its leaders decide it will do, while at the same time, the system is its greatest weakness , in that it cannot sustain itself under the ultra-rigid structure that binds it together. Any system needs strength, but must also be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions. The Chinese communists are so anally rigid, it would implode on itself before it would be able to be flexible or compromising. They know how to use those traits to their advantage by being manipulative with the concept. Those communists did not get where they are today by being "Mr. Nice Guy". In addition to being devious and greedy, they actually believe they can justify enough of a claim on the entire South China Sea, that they can just go out and take it!

Just remember, the Chinese hierarchy is particularly dangerous right now, because, like their North Korean protégés, they are an aging group of the old guard living a communist myth. They mistrust anything they cannot control, largely due to their paranoia and it makes them so nervous, they over-react to the most benign things out of fear it could create another chink in their armor. They even outlawed the Falun Gong, a large group (10 million strong) , but made up mostly of elders who perform their age-old slow motion exercises. The Old Guard declared their group to be unlawful and a danger to society. They were accused of trying to overthrow the government. If that isn’t extreme paranoia, what is? They went berserk when the president of Taiwan referred to their proposed negotiations as being "state to state". The Red Elders went out and conducted a military dress rehearsal on Taiwan’s door-step to intimidate them for being so rash and provocative as to refer to themselves as a "state". They did not even call themselves a state, but referred to it obliquely by asking for "state to state talks". The old boys did everything but "nuke" them. Their restraint in not annihilating Taiwan was possible only because they still need the trade we give them, as well as our blessings to get them into the World Trade Organization they so greedily covet. If they will go to such extremes over such insignificant things, think what they would be quick and ruthlessly eager to do to bottle up the South China Sea and its surrounding Asian neighbors.

When I met Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, I spoke to her about not backing down to the Chinese bluff. She must face them without showing fear or wavering. I believe she is capable of doing just that, and when she becomes President, she will have already established her stance and her grit to the Red Chinese and they will respect her for it. If she faces them with her back straight and her eyes focused eye to eye with her Chinese adversaries, she will do very well.

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