Why get so riled up over some rocks under the sea?

Posted at 04/23/2012 5:30 PM

(Editor's intro: Raissa, foreign correspondent for South China Morning Post and Radio Netherlands, is an independent blogger.)

The Scarborough standoff is between an elephant and an ant –  Domingo Siazon, former foreign secretary 

Why is the Philippines quarreling with China over a reef that sinks mostly under the sea at high tide? And why should Filipinos care who controls Scarborough Shoal?

Scarborough Shoal is a triangle-shaped reef with a circumference of 46 kilometers. A 370-meter channel cuts through the reef and leads to an inner lagoon. Several rock formations jut out on the reef but only one – the South Rock – remains above water at high tide.

It is also referred to as an atoll or “island consisting of a circular coral reef surrounding a lagoon.”

Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon described the current  stand-off at Scarborough Shoal between China and the Philippines as  “between (two countries) the size of an elephant and an ant.”

” It’s not comparable at all,” he told me in an interview.

China recently sent an all-white patrol vessel – the Yuzheng-310 – its most advanced non-military ship in order to enforce its sovereignty over the Shoal which it started calling Huangyan Island in 1983.

The same area in the South China Sea, however, continues to be patrolled by a Philippine Coast Guard ship, the BRP Edsa 2.

According to Chinese media, over 20 Philippine-registered vessels also continue to stay there, ostensibly conducting archeological research.

Beijing has said that whatever shipwreck lies beneath belongs to them. Manila has ignored this.

In a separate interview, China expert Chito Sta Romana cautioned that the situation could trigger a short but violent confrontation:

There is a potential for miscalculation.

Siazon aired the same assessment.

What if PH simply gives up the Shoal to China?

Before I go any further, I would like to raise some important points on the issue.