There was sigh of relief across the Pacific last week when President Trump re-affirmed American commitment to the One China policy in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Since then, though, North Korea launched a missile to remind the world of one major unsolved problem in East Asia. Then the Defense Minister of the Philippines reminded us all of another…more on that, from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Scarborough Shoal is a triangular coral atoll that just barely breaks the surface of the water, about 150 miles west of the old American naval base at Subic Bay.
And, according to Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana, it marks a red line between the United States and China.
Last year, an international court rejected China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea and placed Scarborough Shoal clearly within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.
China rejected the ruling, and, in an interview with Agence France Presse, Defense Minister Lorenzana said that China continues to act as if the South China Sea is theirs. “That’s like their lake to them” he said.
In 1975, China evicted South Vietnam from the Paracel Islands in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. Over the past five years, it’s established bases on seven artificial islands its constructed in the Spratley Islands to the south and, now, Defense Minister Lorenzana says he expects China to build another base at Scarborough Shoal in the Northeast, to complete a web and dominate the area. In fact, he said they started to last year, but stopped after warnings from Washington. “The Americans, that’s their red line,” he told AFP, “Red line meaning you can’t do that there, so they did not do it.”
Lorenzana did not say when he expected construction to start, and Naval Analyst Mike McDevitt, a retired rear admiral, told USNI News that the defense minister’s comments could be a trial balloon, designed to gauge the response from the Trump Administration.