China Is Not Finished Colonizing the Spratlys

An aerial view from March 24 of Whitsun Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea
Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2021

China Is Not Finished Colonizing the Spratlys

The Chinese ‘blinked’ last month. Now they’re back in greater numbers.

Manila reported on May 12 that almost 300 Chinese vessels are trespassing in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone near the Spratly Islands, signaling Beijing’s intensifying determination to control the South China Sea.

“This incident along with continued illegal incursions of foreign vessels sighted near Philippine-held islands have been submitted to relevant agencies for the possible diplomatic actions,” reported the Philippines’ task force on the South China Sea.

In March, the Philippines reported that 200 ships from China’s maritime militia had been moored for weeks near Julian Felipe Reef. International law based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and reinforced by an international court ruling in 2016, says this reef lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. But China rejects international law and claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including other sections belonging to the Philippines and also Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Julian Felipe Reef (internationally known as Whitsun Reef) lies in the northern section of the Spratly Islands. China has constructed several artificial islands in this chain on formerly submerged reefs, and has transformed them into military bases. The Chinese incursions at Julian Felipe Reef fueled fears that Beijing was preparing to assert control over another feature to expand its constellation of bases.

The Philippines and its treaty ally, the United States, responded by deploying naval forces to the region. The deployment included four of the Philippines’ most advanced warships and the uss Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier along with its numerous accompanying vessels and jets. The U.S. State Department also warned China on April 8 that use of force was on the table. “An armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” a statement said.

This response was enough to prompt most of the 200 Chinese ships to pull anchor. “[T]he Chinese vessels have dissipated to a couple of dozen, a clear sign of China backing down in response to the forceful reaction from the Philippines and the U.S.,” the Esquire wrote on April 16.

“The Chinese have blinked,” retired U.S. Navy officer Jerry Hendrix told Forbes.

But now a month later, with close to 300 Chinese ships now making incursions in various sections of Philippine waters, it is clear that the “blink” was a brief one.

China’s renewed resolve may be partly the result of reassurance from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Last week, Duterte said the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which invalidated China’s claims over the South China Sea, is “just a piece of paper.” He said he would “throw it in the wastebasket,” apparently in order to improve the Philippines’ relations with China.

Duterte appears to be among those who are unconcerned by China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, because the features Beijing is taking over are not viewed as significant. As Ely Ratner, deputy director of the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific Security Program, said, “From their vantage point, accommodation is preferable to risking war over ‘a bunch of rocks.’”

But Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has said that China’s gradual takeover in this region “should alarm the world,” because it is heading toward serious conflict.

‘China Is Steering the World Toward War’

In our July 2016 Trumpet issue, Mr. Flurry wrote about the Spratly Islands. He mentioned the fact that the Philippines and other nations lawfully claim parts of this chain. “China is ignoring these nations’ territorial claims,” he wrote. “China is being aggressive and provocative,” and thereby challenging “seven decades of American naval dominance in the Pacific Rim. This should alarm the world!”

Speaking of the South China Sea, through which a third of the world’s maritime commerce passes each year, Mr. Flurry wrote: “Since Japan’s defeat in World War ii, America has protected this vital trade route and brought peace to this part of the world.” But since the U.S. military is now retreating from the region, “other great powers are coming in to fill the vacuum,” he continued. “China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will. It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.”

Mr. Flurry explained that his assessment of the South China Sea situation is based on Bible prophecy.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God issues a solemn warning to the people of Israel, explaining that if they do not turn to Him, He will hand control of the world’s strategic sea gates to their enemies. And He warned that these enemy nations would use that control to besiege the nations of Israel: “And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land …” (Deuteronomy 28:52).

Mr. Flurry explained that this warning is not just for ancient peoples. “It is a prophecy for the modern-day descendants of Israel!” he wrote. “Two nations in particular represent Israel in this end time: America and Britain.” These two countries “are full of terrible sins today, and God is going to correct them for that! This prophecy and several others show that He will send foreign enemies to punish America and Britain!”

China’s push against the status quo in the South China Sea and elsewhere on its periphery is moving toward the fulfillment of this prophecy.

But Mr. Flurry made clear that this approaching besiegement and war is lashed together with some astoundingly hope-filled news: “All this prophesied destruction is what it will take for God to reach this world!” he concluded. “After this, people will be ashamed—and they will get to know God! Ezekiel repeatedly talked about that inspiring conclusion (e.g. Ezekiel 6:7; 7:4; 11:10; 12:20; 13:9; 23:48-49; etc). Yes, there is a lot of bad news when you consider what it takes to get people to the point of knowing God. But ultimately, the outcome is spectacularly good news!”