AMDG

Doing the Parish Rounds will never quite seem the same again...

One of my abiding memories of my time in Culion was staying overnight with a family in the remote village of TabukTabuk.  On the west of the island many of the villages are populated by subsistence fishermen, taking their sustenance from the West Philippine Sea – or is the South China Sea…….. and therein lies a tale.  As I was enjoying fresh coconut milk, and squinting at the waves breaking on a distant reef, it was difficult to imagine that this stretch of water is tipped by some to be the possible starting point of the next global war.  How could this tropical bliss become a hellish theater of war?   The nagging thought only got stronger later in the day when on the way back to the Jesuit Community the boatman kindly detoured at my request.  I spent an amazing 30 minutes snorkeling and feeding a beautiful array of fish on a reef that was rich was life. The nagging thought came because this was an artificial reef created by a Japanese War Ship.

There are many wrecks in the seas around Culion from the Second World War — and ‘wreck diving’ has become a popular tourist attraction.  I suppose the nagging thought was also partly due to my working my way through HBO’s ‘Pacific’ the last couple of weeks which brilliantly portrays the intensity & brutality of the Pacific War.  It seemed the best place to watch it with the added impetus that my grandfather was awarded the Burma Star for fighting in the campaign – something he would never talk about, obviously too painful an experience to tell his wide-eyed grandsons but it was clear that he had bitter memories of the Japanese. and would get angry when he saw Japanese cars on the streets of Liverpool.

The South China Sea

Image via Wikipedia

But surely that is all in the past – and these islands have returned to a tropical bliss…. right?  Well it would be foolish to be too complacent. This sea appears to be one of the more disputed ‘territories’ on the planet and it is the rise of China that is getting everyone jittery.  In January the Philippines announced that it wants to “maximise” its mutual defence treaty with the United States, with more joint exercises, and more American soldiers rotating through. Reinforcing Obama’s ‘pivot’ to the Pacific – the reaction in the Chinese press was shrill calling for sanctions against the Philippines. In December Beijing had ignored Manila’s protest about the incursion of three Chinese vessels in what it calls the “West Philippine Sea”.  An old Jesuit told me that these spats were quite common.

But complacency is not in order here – according to the Economist the stakes are high, because of the enormous economic significance of this disputed sea. It accounts for as much as one-tenth of the fishing catch landed globally; around half the tonnage of intercontinental trade in commercial goods passes through; and a potential treasure chest of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) that China, anxious about the vulnerability of its own supplies, sees as its own (Banyan Feb 4th). With both the Philippines and Vietnam intending to start extracting oil things might more from diplomacy to harassment.  So the chances are that America, with its mighty navy and abiding interest in the freedom of navigation and commerce, and China which its rapidly developing its Navy – recently floating a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier and soon to finish building its first.

Will the waters of the South China (West Philippine Sea) lead to a maritime cold war? Or more aptly a clammy war? Or – God forbid – something worse.  Who knows? …. but it is certainly a sobering thought for Lent.  The potential for man to destroy his paradise.  I suppose that the wisdom of Lent is to remember our fragility and our mortality – if only more people took Lenten renewal more seriously.

Maybe I’ll be less gloomy by the time we get to Easter  🙂

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P.S.  This news came on line 12hrs after I finished the blog entry :

China hits out at ‘troublemaker’ Manila in maritime row  :  BBC News Click Here 

 

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