The facts and truth about Ren'ai Jiao
Published: Mar 28, 2024 12:44 AM
A Philippine vessel approaches a China Coast Guard vessel in a dangerous manner and leads to a bump in waters off China's Ren'ai Reef in the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea on October 22, 2023. Photo: Screenshot from a video released by China Coast Guard

A Philippine vessel approaches a China Coast Guard vessel in a dangerous manner and leads to a bump in waters off China's Ren'ai Reef in the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea on October 22, 2023. Photo: Screenshot from a video released by China Coast Guard

Since last year, the Philippines has repeatedly provoked and disrupted the peace in the South China Sea by exploiting a dilapidated military vessel illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao in the Nansha Qundao for over 20 years.

On March 23, the Philippines once again dispatched vessels to send construction materials to the illegally grounded military vessel, attempting to reinforce the vessel so as to achieve permanent occupation of Ren'ai Jiao. In the face of the intrusion by the Philippine vessels, China Coast Guard had to take necessary measures to safeguard rights and enforce the law. Subsequently, some Philippine officials and media as well as Western media distorted facts and accused China of "bullying the weak," supporting the Philippines' provocative acts of encroachment. Who is actually creating disturbances and altering the status quo? Who is violating international law and undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea? Let us expose the false information spread by the Philippines and present the truth to the international community.

Who owns Ren'ai Jiao?

Ren'ai Jiao is an integral part of China's Nansha Qundao. China has indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Qundao, including Ren'ai Jiao and their adjacent waters, this is solidly grounded in history and law.

Ren'ai Jiao is neither "terra nullius," nor Philippine territory, nor is it within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. The territorial boundaries of the Philippines were established by a series of international treaties, and the Nansha Qundao, including Ren'ai Jiao, fall outside of this scope. The so-called "contiguity or proximity" is not a valid reason for asserting sovereignty. Territorial sovereignty is a prerequisite for claiming maritime rights, and to deny territorial sovereignty based on maritime rights is to reverse cause and effect. The Philippines' denial of China's territorial sovereignty over Ren'ai Jiao, based on the invalid and illegal ruling of the so-called South China Sea arbitration, violates the ancient yet enduring principle of "the land dominates the sea" in international law and is fundamentally untenable.

Who is changing the status quo of Ren'ai Jiao?

Ren'ai Jiao is an uninhabited island reef in the Nansha Qundao in the South China Sea, and this is the original condition of Ren'ai Jiao. The fifth article of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, clearly stipulates that the Parties should refrain from "action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features."

On May 9, 1999, the Philippines illegally ran aground a warship on Ren'ai Jiao, and China immediately lodged a solemn representation. The Philippines has repeatedly promised to tow away the illegally grounded warship and stated that it will not be the first country to violate the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. However, 25 years have passed and the Philippines has still not towed away the warship.

Despite the Philippines' commitment not to reinforce the grounded warship and to notify China in advance of any plans to resupply it, China, out of humanitarian considerations, has made temporary special arrangements for Philippine vessels transporting necessary supplies to the warship multiple times. However, the Philippines has repeatedly violated its commitments to China and continues to send government vessels and warships to forcibly enter Ren'ai Jiao, attempting to transport construction materials for large-scale repairs and reinforcement of the warship in order to achieve permanent occupation of Ren'ai Jiao. This is the root cause of the tension.

It's the Philippines that breaks the consensus between the two countries and escalates tensions in the South China Sea. It's also the Philippines that attempts to change the status quo and create trouble. It's still the Philippines that repeatedly breaks promises and goes back on its words.

What does the Philippines really want to do?

On March 23, without the permission of the Chinese government, the Philippines once again sent ships to intrude into Ren'ai Jiao. The Philippine Coast Guard claimed it was for "routine rotation and resupply," but is this really the truth? Let's look at a few facts.

First, on March 5, two Philippine ships illegally intruded into the waters near Ren'ai Jiao, and the China Coast Guard took necessary measures to safeguard rights, while also refraining from intercepting one of the Philippine ships that was carrying essential supplies out of humanitarian considerations. The so-called "resupply" by the Philippines on March 23 was only 18 days after the previous one, and based on past situations, the supplies provided earlier should have been sufficient for the personnel on the "grounded" warship, indicating the Philippines had ulterior motives.

Second, the Philippines claims to be transporting life supplies, but the ship is actually loaded with construction materials. The Philippine supply ship cannot carry large construction materials inside, and all goods are placed in open or semi-open spaces on the ship. Without boarding the Philippine ship, anyone can clearly see that the ship is loaded with construction materials. This is obviously intended to reinforce the old grounded ship and build a permanent outpost on uninhabited islands and reefs, attempting to occupy Chinese territory.

Third, the Philippine Coast Guard deliberately carried a large number of accompanying "journalists" on board, attempting to manipulate public opinion. It discredited China as a "bully" and created a victim image for the Philippines, exaggerating the so-called "China threat" theory to deceive sympathy from the international community. The Philippines claims that China is "preventing normal personnel rotations" and depriving service members at the Ren'ai Jiao of "necessary provisions," which just exposes the Philippines' long-standing illegal attempts to stay on Chinese territory, revealing their sinister intentions.

The China Coast Guard had to take necessary measures to intercept Philippine vessels in order to maintain China's territorial sovereignty. The related operations were legitimate, professional, and restrained, and there is no room for criticism.

Who is manipulating and directing behind the scenes?

The US cannot escape blame for the current situation. The US is deeply involved in the Philippines' infringement and provocation activities at Ren'ai Jiao, instigating and supporting the Philippines in repairing and reinforcing the illegal "grounded" warship, and sending military aircraft and warships to the scene to coordinate with the Philippines. The US government has also openly voiced support for the Philippines' infringement and provocation actions without any bottom line, even using the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty to threaten and coerce China, boosting the confidence and arrogance of the Philippines in its maritime infringement and provocations.

American media and think tanks are hyping up the issue of Ren'ai Jiao, baselessly attacking and accusing China. One typical example is the Project Myoushu. The project appears to be affiliated with Stanford University, but is actually mainly operated by members with backgrounds in the US military. The project leader, Ray Powell, served in the US Air Force for 35 years. The Project Myoushu uses social media platforms to disseminate false information, constantly attacking and smearing the normal activities of Chinese ships in the South China Sea, mainly through speculation, baseless fabrication, manipulation of public opinion, exaggeration of the "Chinese threat" theory, and incitement of regional division. Relevant countries should have a clear understanding of this and remain highly vigilant.

Facts cannot be distorted, and the truth cannot be erased. Ren'ai Jiao is part of China's Nansha Qundao. It is Chinese territory. Philippine encroachment and provocations cannot change facts, and American manipulation and hype cannot cover up the truth.

The author is an expert on border and maritime affairs. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn