China responded to Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines going to court over South China Sea disputes by declaring it would ignore the court proceedings and not recognize any “anti-Chinese” court decisions. China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over all the South China Sea and does not recognize any other claims. There won’t a court decision until 2015 and challenging an “anti-China” decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that could cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that. Meanwhile China continues to militarize the South China Sea. This involves establishing more small bases on reefs and rocks and putting more patrol ships in the area and warplanes overhead. Then there are the growing number of Chinese fishing vessels, many of them violating anti-poaching laws long enforced in areas close to other countries but far (often more than a thousand kilometers) from China. If any of these old poaching laws are enforced on Chinese ships then China makes a big deal out of it and issues threats. It’s all very intimidating and it’s meant to be.
China has created a volatile situation by claiming all of the South China Sea and being taken to court over the issue shows that the locals have few options without the active participation of the United States. China appears to be making its moves in the South China Sea with the understanding that the combined military power of the victims and their ally the United States is far superior to what China has now and will have a decade or two in the future. But as long as the U.S. stands back, China can bully its neighbors as much as it likes. This is not without risks. China is in a vulnerable economic position at home just now with some potentially serious domestic problems (a property bubble, large-scale bank fraud, labor unrest and shortages plus growing anger over corruption) that are more essential to the survival of the communist rulers than the South China Sea. If Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan all call China’s bluff it might cause China to back off, as it is currently doing with its claims against India (because of growing tension in the South China Sea and at home).
The BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) rebels are now accused by MILF of working with Indonesian Islamic terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah to obtain training in bomb making and other terrorist techniques. Jemaah Islamiyah sees MILF as a traitor to Islam for making peace with the Filipino government. Jemaah Islamiyah believes all non-Moslems in the region should be forced to convert to Islam, or driven out (or killed) and is helping BIFF to be more deadly in its attacks against MILF. Jemaah Islamiyah is largely defeated in Indonesia but some members have found sanctuary in the Philippines and that established a connection for Filipino Islamic terrorists and remaining Jemaah Islamiyah members back in Indonesia. BIFF is a radical MILF faction that does not support the peace negotiations. The main Filipino Moslem separatist group (MILF) has been fighting the BIFF since 2011. A 2012 peace deal with BIFF which was supposed to see the dissidents rejoin MILF and stop causing problems with their attacks on Christians in the south. This quickly fell apart and the BIFF violence had been getting worse. BIFF went back to attacking Christians and the security forces and this resulted in heavy losses. BIFF contained about a thousand armed men in early 2013 and is believed to be down to a few hundred gunmen now. Those who do remain are hard core and many are willing to die rather than surrender. BIFF had become increasingly violent and outspoken about how MILF is selling out Moslems. MILF was reluctant to use force to deal with BIFF but now that the peace negotiations have created a Moslem homeland down south BIFF is being denounced as evil, hostile and deserving of a violent crackdown.
June 13, 2014: In neighboring Malaysia police captured three local Islamic terrorists one of whom had received training in an al Qaeda (or Jemaah Islamiyah) run camp in the Philippines. The three had recently entered the country and police knew about that because of interrogations of other Islamic terrorists arrested recently. Malaysia has much less of an Islamic terrorism problem than neighboring states because of more effective police work and counter-terrorism activities in general.
The Philippines claims that China is dredging sand onto two more reefs to create small islands for tiny military outposts. This makes five such new islands in areas within the Filipino economic zone. China does not publicize these efforts and claims they are an internal matter and no foreign nation has the right to get involved.
June 11, 2014: In the capital police arrested an Abu Sayyaf leader (Khair Mundos) who the U.S. also wants (and is offering a $500,000 reward for). Mundos has long been involved with Abu Sayyaf finances.
June 10, 2014: In the south (Jolo) a businessman kidnapped eight months ago was released. A ransom was probably paid, even though this is illegal.
June 9, 2014: In the south (Basilan) a wanted Abu Sayyaf kidnapper was arrested.
June 8, 2014: Forty Filipino troops travelled to Southwest Cay Island (one of the Spratley Islands) and partied with the Vietnamese garrison there all day long. There was volleyball, beer, food and lots of photo ops for the reporters who were also invited. Southwest Cay Island was taken by the Philippines after World War II and taken back by Vietnam in 1975. That caused diplomatic problems with the Philippines but the event on Southwest Cay Island today shows China that the rift is healed and Vietnam and the Philippines are allies against China. This event was denounced by China.
June 5, 2014: In the south (Maguindanao) troops clashed with a group of BIFF men and killed two of them.
June 4, 2014: South Korea has agreed to donate a decommissioned Pohang class corvette. These ships were built in the 1980s and come in two variants. The first is an anti-ship version which has two Exocet anti-ship missiles, a 76mm gun, and a twin 30mm anti-aircraft gun. The second is an ASW version which has two 76mm guns, two triple 324mm (12.75 inch) torpedo tubes and two twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns. This ship is being decommissioned at the end of the year and it is unclear if it will come with weapons and electronics. South Korea recently gave the Philippines an old LST and 16 inflatable boats.
June 2, 2014: In the south (Mindanao) NPA released five forestry officials they had taken captive three days earlier and accused of spying. The forestry employees convinced the leftist rebels they were surveying a remote forest area.
June 1, 2014: In the south (Sulu) police and marines captured an MILF bomb maker wanted for the 2009 bombing that killed two American Special Forces soldiers and a Filipino marine. At the time MILF was opposed to government efforts to build schools in the area. The Americans were helping with that.
May 29, 2014: In Sulu two women kidnapped in Malaysia eight weeks ago were freed, without (according to the government) paying the $11 million ransom demanded by the kidnappers. Back on April 2nd Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists in speedboats crossed the Sulu Sea from the Tawi-Tawi Islands at night to nearby Malaysia (Sabah) and kidnapped a Singaporean woman and a local scuba diving resort worker. The Islamic terrorists then hustled back to Tawi-Tawi and later demanded a ransom of $11 million. Malaysia demanded action and the Philippines ordered more troops to Tawi-Tawi to search for the hostages. The last time this sort of thing happened was in 2000, when Abu Sayyaf took 21 people from another Sabah resort. Most of those hostages were released within five months, after the payment of ransoms. Since then security was increased on both sides of the Sulu Sea and foreign tourists began returning to the Malaysian resorts. Small speedboats can make it across the Sulu Sea to Sabah quickly because some of the smaller Tawi-Tawi Islands are less than 20 kilometers from Sabah. Filipino and Malaysian patrol boats monitor this patch of sea but not on a 24/7 basis and at night a couple of small speedboats are easy to miss.
May 28, 2014: In the south (Compostela Valley province) six NPA rebels ambushed a local mayor they accused of being involved in illegal logging. The mayor was killed as were two of the leftist rebels when the bodyguards returned fire.
May 27, 2014: The Philippines announced increased coastal patrols in areas also claimed by China. This increases the risk of a confrontation with the growing number of Chinese fishing and coast guard ships out there but the Filipinos are not backing away from the Chinese intimidation.