China Stationing Military and Dredging Vessels at Scarborough Shoal

On Sun­day, Sep­tem­ber 4, the Philip­pine navy observed ten Chi­nese ves­sels sta­tioned a mile off of Scar­bor­ough shoal.  The ten ships includ­ed four Chi­nese Coast Guard ves­sels and six oth­ers, includ­ing dredgers ‘‘‘ a sig­nif­i­cant uptick from the usu­al Chi­nese flotil­la that has been sta­tioned at the shoal since seiz­ing it in 2012.

Philip­pine Defense Min­is­ter Delfin Loren­zana also accused the Chi­nese of con­ceal­ing mil­i­tary ves­sels as civil­ian ships.  Con­struc­tion on Scar­bor­ough Shoal is viewed by many as a provoca­tive mile­stone in terms of Chi­nese expan­sion into Philip­pine ter­ri­to­ry, with Mr. Loren­zana say­ing on Sep­tem­ber 6, ‘‘‘If they try to con­struct any­thing in Scar­bor­ough, it will have a far-reach­ing adverse effect on the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion.‘  Bei­jing tried to send dredg­ing barges to the shoal ear­li­er this year, but as of yet, there is no evi­dence of recla­ma­tion activ­i­ty.

A num­ber of Chi­nese state-owned enter­pris­es (SOE) have been involved in oth­er South Chi­na Sea island-build­ing activ­i­ties, most promi­nent­ly CCCC Dredg­ing and the Chi­na Har­bour Engi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (CHEC).  More infor­ma­tion on the cor­po­rate iden­ti­ty or own­er­ship behind Chi­nese assets mak­ing up the flotil­la is not present­ly avail­able, but Beijing‘s track record else­where in the South Chi­na Sea is like­ly instruc­tive.  In short, there is a high like­li­hood of sim­i­lar actors being present.

Despite the ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pute, the Philip­pines has assert­ed that they still desire a close friend­ship with Chi­na.  Before this recent news, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Rodri­go Duterte stat­ed that he expects offi­cial talks with Chi­na over this dis­pute occur­ring in the com­ing year, but not to be brought up at the Sep­tem­ber ASEAN meet­ing.