The first lie caught is the “maritime militia” yarn found in the news reports in local media. When one looks closely, these have an abrupt, short, almost unnoticeable statement that the ships are only “believed to be manned by militia.”
In contrast, the international media have invariably reported the ships as “fishing vessels.” Even Voice of America used the term “flotilla” to describe the ships, and stated that maritime militia were believed to be with the ships.” The facts become very slippery as the narrative multiplies and builds on speculative assertions upon more speculative assertions.
The selective targeting of the presence of Chinese ships within the Union Bank atoll in the Whitsun Reef is equally fishy. After all, the Vietnamese have long-established a base structure at the Collins Reef of the Union Bank atoll. A photo of the Vietnamese structure is even available on Wikipedia under the subject of Union Banks. The structure is a four-story building that is adjacent to other facilities, such as, cranes, antennae, water tanks, and the like. Why is there no protest against this?
The selective targeting of the presence of Chinese fishing ships exposes the real intent: to hit China and President Duterte. It is not based on the principled espousal of the Philippines’ EEZ or territorial claim over the area.
The anti-Duterte elements in this massive agit-prop operation are both subtle and unmistakable. After all, they have a lot of catching up to do: the last Pulse Asia polls in October 2020 had given Duterte a 91-percent approval rating.
On March 26, 2021, the Voice of America reported the following quote from Australian maritime expert Carl Thayer, “Within the Philippine navy alone, people express views on China (that are) at odds with Duterte. ‘They’re humiliated and they’re upset.’”
The relevance of the Carl Thayer quote to the incident being reported is a head-scratching question; after all, it is just the opinion of a foreigner on a matter irrelevant to the issue of “maritime militia” in the Whitsun Reef. But there you have it – the insertion of an irrelevant quote to create the derogatory bias. As for the AFP, National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon has officially stated that “PH not at war with China, (there are) no imminent threats re insurgency and pandemic.”
To the above allegations, the Chinese Embassy in Manila has stated that there is no such thing as a “Chinese Maritime Militia” and that the fishing boats anchored at Whitsun Reef were just sheltering from inclement weather during the time of the reports. I do not see why no one from the international and Philippine media checked out the satellite weather reports and photos of the area at that time. I did – and indeed, a photo of the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) showed dozens of red and multicolored lines that indicate inclement weather in the area.
A copy of the satellite photo can be found on the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) website, which I found easy to navigate. While on this subject, my research has established that the source of many of the reports and satellite photos used by the AFP in the present case come from Simularity and AllSource Analysis. The former is a geospatial tech company while the latter was reported by Carlin Sack in 2014 as a “CIA-level satellite intelligence seller” that had been started by ex-CIA people.
In the past decade, the go-to sources for SCS information and satellite photos of the AFP and Amboys have been the CSIS (Center for Strategic and Intelligence Studies) and its progeny AMTi (Asia Maritime Transparency Institute). In particular, it is the AMTi that turns the key of the wind-up toys in the media, the academe, the retired justices et al to prattle the CSIS and AMTI narrative against China and Duterte. Now it looks like they are turning to commercial providers of the info and satellite photos.
I don’t know how many are still fooled or taken by this agit-prop ritual of “maritime militia invasion” and the “ready to build new artificial islands.” My research, from 2016 to the present, found that this is a biennial or even tri-annual event.
In 2016, there was a proliferation of reports on “fishing militia” by Reuters that coincided with the summer fishing season. In 2017, Ankit Panda of The Diplomat wrote an article on “A Chinese ‘invasion’ near the Philippines’ Pag-Asa Islands in the Spratlys”, citing “Alejano’s allegations regarding the presence of Chinese vessels, Justice Carpio’s description of the even as an “invasion of Philippine territory” (and he says he is a legal luminary), and the claim of Pag-Asa Mayor Bito-Onon that he had been chased by a Chinese warship.
In 2018, an article reported on “Manila Protests ‘swarming’ of Chinese boats near island’… the DFA lodged the protest … about 275 Chinese vessels near …Pag-Asa.” In 2019, much was made of the incident where a Chinese fishing vessel, which had been tagged wrongly by some as a Coast Guard boat collided with a Filipino fishing boat. And in 2020, there was the story that alleged “China’s Weapon Pointing” at a Philippine navy ship. These just go on and on: the stories fritter off into oblivion only to be resurrected some months later.
Some people may pooh-pooh these agit-prop efforts as innocuous that won’t lead to anything serious. Don’t ever forget the “Sinking of the Maine”, which was fake news created as pretext for the war on Spain and colonization of the Philippines; Or the “Tonkin Gulf Incident”, which was used to expand the Vietnam War. It is only a matter of time before these SCS bogeymen stories are used by the US to create a fake incident to trigger a major crisis.
(Herman Tiu Laurel is an author and founder of the Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies think tank. Join his: “Power Thinks” every Wednesday 6pm Live on Global Talk News Radio [GTNR] on Facebook and Talk News TV on YouTube, and Every Sunday from 8am to 10am on RP1 738 on your AM radio dial.)
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