China is Poison to Pagasa Island in the Philippines
China is slowly squeezing the Philippines’ claimed islands in the South China Sea, as neither the US or Philippines, seem to be feckless in their defense. The US is allowing this to happen, or should I say, the Obama administration.
Pagasa island is really just a small atoll on the front line in the contested Spratly islands claimed by China and Philippines. It is also the only inhabited island with 120 Filipinos living there and a small garrison of national guard troops. At the end of December, 2015, China demanded that all Filipinos must leave- none did in an act of defiance. The Chinese call the island Thitu.
The local fisherman are facing a new menace- the rich coral reef with marine life for which they depend on is dying. It was never a problem before and a well know area to Chinese fishermen also. Now, they are no longer coming and the only ships are Chinese naval vessels that harass Filipino fishermen. But scores of fish are now lining the beaches and coastal areas dead. Dead from some unknown cause and many suspect it is the Chinese who are using chemicals to kill the marine life and coral to starve the 120 inhabitants. The Chinese hope the population will voluntarily leave and once they do, the Chinese will occupy it.
You see, up to now, the Chinese have only seized uninhabited atolls or islands in Subi Reef, where they are building an airfield and have antiaircraft defenses. They claim that Scarborough Shoals, just 120 miles from Subic Bay (a former USN base in the 80s) is on their list to build a base and at Mischief Reef, where they are building another airbase. Pagasa is a prime target for it already has an airfield. The island sustains a population unlike all the others. But, the Chinese cannot simply seize it without causing a major confrontation, so, they are nefarious, using chemicals to kill sea life and naval ships to harass. They are making life uncomfortable for the Filipinos living there and slowly tightening the screws.
The Philippines also controls Reed Bank, which has energy deposits bigger than Kuwait and equal to those of Saudi Arabia. This bank is between Pagasa and the Philippine mainland and well inside the 200 nautical mile economic zone of the country. There no doubt, China would love to control it for economic reasons.
To help the Filipinos survive, four times a year, the Philippines sends supplies and food to the people living there. The USN travels into the South China Sea to challenge the Chinese. Chinese naval ships warn the US ships that the USN is violating Chinese waters and simply shadow every move. It is a friendly confrontation. However, when the USS Stennis, an aircraft carrier tried to dock in Hong Kong, the Chinese refused to allow it. It was their way to send a signal to the US.
In March, 2016, several Chinese vessels occupied Quirino Atoll and barred Filipino fishermen from the area. The Philippine government seems to want to appease the Chinese and work with them for economic gains and not rely on American support or military to ward of the Chinese. China would rather conquer softly and without notice- just look at the South China Sea.