Chinese general reveals 'strategy' for Panatag takeover

Camille Diola - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A Chinese military general has revealed their strategy to take over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) off Zambales province.

China Daily Mail reported that in a recent television interview, Major General Zhang Zhaozhong said that China's navy has been wrapping the disputed island like a "cabbage" with ships.

China calls the shoal, which is within the Philippines' 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone, as Huangyan Island. It claims virtually the entire South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

In the online news site's transcript of the interview, Zhang explained at length China's strategy to a television host who called the Philippines' activities in the territory "rude" and "barbaric."

"We have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around the Huangyan Island, seal and control continuously up till now," the Chinese news site quoted Zhang as saying.

The Chinese military added that they have been employing the "cabbage" strategy to secure the island from the Philippines by having constant surveillance and assigning administrative fishing vessels in the territory.

"If the Philippines wants to go in, in the outermost area, it has first to ask whether our navy will allow it. Then it has to ask whether our fishery administration ships and marine surveillance ships will allow it," Zhang said in the interview.

The high-ranking officer said that the "satisfactory" strategy is to ensure Sino fishermen can carry out their work "safely."

"We have gained quite satisfactory experience about the ways to recover the islands and reefs and defend them," he told the TV host.

Zhang also explained that such a scheme can potentially be used to monitor smaller islands in the disputed coastal waters, only that their resources would run scarce.

"For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the “cabbage” strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands," he said.

Zhang complained that Philippine forces have threatened Chinese fishermen making their living in the area and have "violated ... China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"As you have first violated the law and pointed your guns at our fishermen, you would never be allowed to enter the area," Zhang said, indirectly addressing his Filipino counterparts.

"Each time our Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested, but (the Philippines) refused to listen. In the meantime, it was busy doing this and that, such as sunk a boat there and conducting lots of patrols there," he said.

Forceful recovery

The major general said that China's so-called successful recovery of similar contested areas such as the Spratlys group have been due to "right timing."

"Over the past few years, we have made a series of achievements at the Nansha Islands (the Spratly Islands), the greatest of which I think have been on the Huangyan Island, Meiji Reef (Mischief Reef) and Ren’ai Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal)," he added.

China has also been sending ships to the Ayungin Shoal near Palawan province. The shoal is also within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Zhang said that Chinese authorities next step would be to have a "vigorous development" in the islands to support China's economy as well as its tourism efforts, fisheries and marine protection.

"We have to do much more work there, and coordinate various efforts. We should not rely only on military effort. In the military perspective, fighting is the last resort while before it there must be production on a large scale and with high enthusiasm and large-scale production on the sea," he concluded.

He also mentioned that China plans to implement its law and military might more forcefully for the islands' complete "recovery."

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