Beijing exploiting pandemic for military, propaganda ends

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2020 - 12:00am

China’s communist rulers are taking advantage of global pandemic for military and political ends. For them COVID-19 is a grand opportunity. As 210 countries stagger from nearly three million infectees and 200,000 deaths, Beijing is tightening military grip on the South China Sea. It also employs selective medical aid to reward or lure pliant heads of weak states. Pleas from world leaders fall on deaf ears for Beijing sincerely to help four billion people harmed by disease that sprang from Wuhan.

The Chinese Communist Party’s private People’s Liberation Army has escalated aggression. In mid-Feb. a PLA warship trained weapons on a Philippine Navy patrol at Malampaya offshore gas field. A Filipino official told Associated Press the Chinese ship pointed its “fire control radar” at the Philippine frigate. The radar locks weapons on a target prior to intended attack. When threatened Filipino sailors detected the radar, they falsely were accused of trespassing Chinese territory.

Opened since 2002 just 35 miles off Palawan, Malampaya supplies half of Luzon’s power. State-owned Philippine National Oil Co. and Shell operate the well. The incident was not Beijing’s first bellicosity in waters 800 miles from China’s nearest island, Hainan. Beijing has been coveting Malampaya and nearby Sampaguita Field in Recto (Reed) Bank. A Chinese grab of Malampaya would plunge Luzon in darkness at a time when its economy is reeling from COVID-19 pandemic. Another Filipino official said that while the PLA warship did not fire at the Philippine vessel, it was “very hostile” and “unprovoked”. Manila has protested.

Throughout Mar., Beijing reinforced the seven Philippine reefs it earlier had concreted into fortresses. Troop transports and fighters landed on three that have airstrips, the US Indo-Pacific Fleet monitored. Beijing ignored calls to not exploit world distraction by pandemic to sow tension. Instead the PLA sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracels. The US and Canada admonished Beijing to simmer down and help out with the COVID-19 global emergency.

Instead Beijing declared two new navy districts under Hainan’s Sansha submarine base. Called Nansha and Xisha, they correspond to China’s names for the Spratlys and Paracels in the South China Sea. The PLA districts will oversee the archipelagos — the Spratlys, from Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, grabbed from the Philippines in 2013. The Philippines holds nine Spratly islands; foremost is Pagasa municipality, Palawan. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zones overlap in those waters, far outside China’s own EEZ.

The PLA districts aim to give impression of absolute control over the SCS, international maritime lawyer Dr. Jay Batongbacal warned. With world attention focused on dealing with pandemic and if no state objects, it can be interpreted as consent. “Absence of protests especially by countries directly affected will be seen and portrayed as acquiescence, or recognition of the exercise of such control as valid,” he said. Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio said the PLA designation of Kagitingan Reef as Spratly control base banked on Philippine acceptance by silence. Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario remarked that Beijing is “relentlessly exploiting the pandemic to pursue its illegal and expansive claims.” Manila protested the PLA act. In 2016 the UN arbitral court outlawed Beijing’s unfounded claim over the entire SCS, and reef grabbing.

Before the PLA act, Beijing set up two research stations in the reefs, based in Mischief, 120 miles off Palawan, which it stole in 1995. It used as front the China Academy of Science to propagandize civilian initiative. Beijing has been using the Academy for bogus scientific bases for its SCS expansionism.

Last week the Chinese embassy in Manila launched a song, “Iisang Dagat,” by Chinese and Filipino artists, supposedly to dramatize joint effort against COVID-19. Thousands of Filipino netizens booed it as sly propaganda promoting Beijing”s illicit sea claim. Reignited was Filipino anger with the PLA’s 2012 annexation of Scarborough Shoal, 123 miles off Luzon and 760 miles distant from Hainan. Recalled too was a PLA steel-hulled fishing militia launch’s ramming of a wooden Filipino boat in the Philippines’ Recto Bank. In that incident last June, Beijing gave alibis for the offending craft leaving 22 Filipino fishers floating helpless at sea in the dark night.

More Beijing propaganda echoes across the globe about medical aid for poor countries to cope with COVID-19. But only those that serve Beijing’s interests are recipients. Example, landlocked African countries which it had goaded to its side against the Philippine sea arbitration. As well, European principalities that accept Chinese 5G technology despite risk of embedded spyware.

Beijing communists trumpet that Chinese scientists avidly studied and crafted measures against the new coronavirus. While that is true, it was largely out of individual sense of duty, some at sacrifice of life. But Beijing commissars are grabbing the credit, after they in fact hid the Wuhan outbreak from the world for three weeks. Five million Wuhanese thence eluded lockdown and unwittingly spread disease in the mainland and across continents. Communist enforcers even arrested the doctor who first noted similarities of the virus to SARS, and silenced his chat group of medical specialists.

That communist conspiratorial nature has harmed the livelihoods of four billion people. That is why countless families, communities, and businesses want Beijing to indemnify them for their losses.

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