Military experts say China’s plans to reclaim and build an airstrip on the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea could prompt a harsh response from the United States as part of its obligation to defend Manila, one of its close allies.
The US and the Philippines are both signatories to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which states that both nations would support each other if either the Philippines or the United States were to be attacked by an external party.
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Experts have said that although there is a standing treaty between the two nations to defend each other, the provisions will not, however, be implemented unless the Chinese military attacked the Philippine forces without provocation.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said on Thursday that he is not aware of any plans by China to reclaim the contested reef and build an airstrip and a radar system on it. The Reef, which the Philippines calls the Panatag Shoal, is 185 miles from Manila.
Aquino was confident in saying that the US will come to the rescue of the Philippines if China decides to push through with its plans or risk losing its superpower image before the claimant states in the disputed international waterway.
“It has to maintain its ascendancy, moral ascendancy, and also the confidence of one of its allies,” Aquino told reporters in a press briefing in Malacanang.
China has rapidly expanded and strengthened its presence in the South China Sea by reclaiming several reefs and building them into artificial islands. Airstrips and outposts have been built on rocks and shoals in these Islands, which the Philippines and other neighboring countries claim as their own.
Aquino said he has not yet received any intelligence report that China will be stepping up its reclamation work and construction of facilities in the Scarborough shoal. China took control of the disputed shoal during a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.
He said despite the loss of the Shoal to China in 2012, the Philippines would be prepared for any action by Beijing.
“We don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s theirs,” said Aquino as he expressed confidence that the US military will defend Manila in case China will go through with its reclamation plans.
There are reports that Beijing plans to develop the shoal within the year and construct military facilities such as radar system and airstrips in defiance of the upcoming decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the territorial case filed by the Philippines against China four years ago.
Beijing has said that it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the international tribunal in the Hague over the case and that any verdict handed down against China will be ignored.
A high-ranking Chinese official has said that Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly group of islands belong to China based on previous three international treaties that delineated Manila’s boundaries in the South China Sea.
Philippine leaders have been pointing accusing fingers to one another on how Manila lost the Scarborough Shoal to China. There are threats that impeachment proceedings will be initiated against the president, and cases would be filed for treason against several senators who reportedly held back-channel talks with high-level Chinese officials on the South China Sea.