Carpio: China will take over Scarborough Shoal by 2022

After establishing military superiority over the entire South China Sea by completing its base on Scarborough Shoal, Carpio believes that China would then quickly sign the Code of Conduct to strategically impede the claims of rival states.

MAKATI CITY, PHILIPPINES - Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday predicted that China would build a military base on Scarborough Shoal before the end of the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The most opportune time for China to build on Scarborough Shoal is before President Duterte leaves office on June 30, 2020. President Duterte has publicly stated that he cannot stop China if China reclaims Scarborough Shoal, practically giving China the green light to reclaim and build on Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said during his presentation at ‘Changing the World Order? China’s Long-Term Global Strategy’, an international conference held by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung-Philippines at Fairmont Makati on November 18-19, 2019.

Carpio believes that reclamation and island building works on Scarborough Shoal would be China’s final act before signing the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, an agreement to settle the disputes between China and five ASEAN claimant states in the hotly contested maritime region. Negotiations on the agreement have been ongoing for the past 17 years.

“China needs to build on Scarborough Shoal to complete its radar, missile, and fighter jet coverage of the entire South China Sea. Right now, there is a hole in the northeast portion of the South China Sea where China has no radar, missile, and fighter jet coverage. An air and naval base on Scarborough Shoal will plug this loophole,” he said.

Scarborough Shoal is located a mere 123 miles west of Palauig, Zambales on the island of Luzon, well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

After establishing military superiority over the entire South China Sea by completing its base on Scarborough Shoal, Carpio believes that China would then quickly sign the Code of Conduct to strategically impede the claims of rival states.

“All reclamations and island building after the signing of the Code of Conduct will be prohibited and will be illegal. That will legitimize all reclamations and island buildings prior to the signing of the Code of Conduct, and China will by far be the biggest beneficiary of the Code of Conduct,” Carpio stated.

The retired Supreme Court justice pointed out that China already attempted to start reclamation works in the past when it sent dredgers to Scarborough Shoal in 2016. However, they did not proceed after then-U.S. President Barack Obama threatened to intervene to stop them.

Carpio said President Duterte’s hands-off approach to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea meant there was a low probability of the dispatch of Philippine Navy ships to Scarborough Shoal in case China attempts to undertake reclamation activities once more. This would prevent the possibility of a Chinese attack on a Philippine public vessel at Scarborough Shoal, an event that could be used by the United States to invoke the 1953 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and intervene in the conflict.

Carpio said the Chinese government would make the most out of the incumbent administration’s approach to the West Philippine Sea and complete its planned reclamation and construction works on Scarborough Shoal before the end of the Duterte administration in June 2022. He added that his theory matches previous pronouncements by the Chinese government that it would sign the Code of Conduct in 2022.

“Unlike many others, I dread the day when China says it is ready to sign the Code of Conduct because that means that China will have already reclaimed and built on Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said.

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