China could ‘drag away’ Philippine atoll base, but is showing ‘restraint’: Communist Party newspaper

China has shown patience, but it is committed to defending its territory, says commentary in the People’s Daily ahead of tribunal ruling on maritime disputes in the region

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 11:44pm

China is fully capable of removing a Philippine naval vessel set up as a permanent base on a disputed atoll in the South China Sea, but has so far shown restraint, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper said on Monday.

The commentary in People’s Daily comes ahead of an imminent ruling from a international court in The Hague on some of the disputes involving China and other countries in the South China Sea. The case was brought by the Philippines.

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The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded an old US built landing craft on the disputed ­Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea in 1999. It has since kept a team of about a dozen military personnel on the ship.

The shoal in the Spratly Islands chain is also claimed by China, which calls it the Renai Shoal.

China has repeatedly asked for the craft to be removed.

Chinese coastguard vessels blocked Philippine supply ships from approaching the shoal two years ago, forcing them to drop provisions by air to the already ­severely corroded craft.

“The story of the Renai Shoal [shows] China is fully capable of dragging away that Philippine vessel hanging in there,” People’s Daily said. “But for the stability of the South China Sea, China offers goodwill and patience and has always shown high restraint.”

China was, however, committed to defending every inch of its territory, the commentary said.

In November, Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said China had exercised “extreme restraint” – otherwise it would have reclaimed all the islets under other countries’ control.

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“The Chinese government has the right and capability to take back the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighbouring countries, but we did not,” Liu said.

China claims almost all islands and reefs in the South China Sea, but the majority of the Spratlys are controlled by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

The article was aimed at the Philippines and the United States, but that did not mean China was about to act, said Hu Bo, a researcher at the Institute of Ocean Research, Peking University.

“Whether China takes action depends on how the Philippines and the US behave,” he said.

The commentary said China would not accept the international tribunal’s ruling. It has refused to take part in the hearings.

By playing “meaningless games” the Philippines and “the power behind them” would shoot themselves in the foot, it said.

The commentary also criticised US involvement in South China Sea disputes.