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Silence Is Falling on the South China Sea

Philippine China relations have taken a decidedly friendly turn since the South China Sea arbitration concluded with the Annex VII tribunal ruling mostly in favor of the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has completely upended the country s foreign policy with its powerful neighbor, starting with a soft landing approach to the ruling, and following up with friendly overtures, solicitation and acceptance of pledges of financial assistance, loan packages and infrastructure projects all punctuated with expletive-laden jabs at Western allies. China also increased imports from the Philippines, notably on agricultural products from Mindanao (tying up support from the southern economic elite), opened the tap on Chinese tourists, and invited the country to join the ranks of beneficiaries of China s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative. Renewed Chinese beneficence has had its intended impact: by thawing formerly ice-cold ties, emphasizing cooperation in other areas and drawing attention away from the maritime disputes, the Duterte administration has noticeably muted its reactions to Chinese assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea. During the term of Benigno Aquino III, Duterte s predecessor, even the slightest new development merited a highly-publicized response. Since the victory at the arbitration, serious changes in the situation at sea have merited a helpless shrug and sometimes permissive deference. When news broke in December of the installation of anti-aircraft weaponry and close-in weapons systems on China s artificial islands, then-Secretary Yasay simply conceded that there was nothing that [the Philippines] could do , that China could take whatever action is necessary in pursuit of their national interest and the Philippines will leave it at that. Yasay even took it a step further by saying that the Philippines wouldn t have anything to do with allies interests in the South China Sea, and that the latter should act on their own without Philippine involvement. When a Chinese ship captured a US underwater drone off Subic Bay, the government was quick to distance itself from its erstwhile ally, professing ignorance of US operations. There wasn t even an official response to the reported near-collision between a US aircraft and a Chinese airborne early warning and control system aircraft patrolling near Scarborough Shoal, notwithstanding the obvious implications of apparently regular Chinese long-range aerial patrols over its claimed territory. Silence on the part of the Philippines seems to have become the new normal, even in the protection of its claims. The Philippines isn t raising the alarm over the continuing destruction of marine habitat, despite Chinese fishermen repeating their patterns of coral cutting and giant-clam harvesting in Scarborough Shoal and incessant fishing activities within its EEZ. Elsewhere, its fishermen have to fend for themselves and fish where their presence is tolerated. Philippine offshore petroleum exploration in the West Philippine Sea has ground to a halt with a self-imposed and official moratorium on account of the disputes. Chinese marine scientific research activities encroaching within the Philippine EEZ have increased in scope, frequency and proximity to the Philippine mainland, not only to the west but also to the east despite the absence of Philippine consent or participation. Only a much-publicized order for the country s Armed Forces to occupy the Philippine islands in the Spratlys and an announcement that President Duterte would raise the flag at Pag-asa Island seemed to briefly shatter the quiescence, although it turned out to be very short-lived.

Muting the disputes has resumed; recent published reports of Chinese personnel threatening and firing warning shots at Philippine fishermen in Union Bank (which straddles the Philippine EEZ) were brushed off by President Duterte as a misunderstanding. He even laid blame on the fishermen for testing the waters and tempting the gods. Silence seems to have even expanded to the last ASEAN summit where the Philippine Chair s Statement retreated from the previous years extended expressions of concern over developments in the SCS, shying away from previous clauses about militarisation, escalation and reclamation. The draft framework for a Code of Conduct recently agreed between China and ASEAN reportedly indicates the latter stepping back from any role by expressly preventing the code from being a basis for dispute settlement in the SCS.

Although the Duterte administration portrays this all as part of a grand independent foreign policy that would take the Philippines away from the US orbit and move closer toward China and Russia, it s risking a yet-unaccounted price: the potential collapse of fisheries and habitats along its western shores, loss of energy security and increased dependence on energy imports, financial bondage for infrastructure development, and political restraint to ensure uninterrupted benefits. Unless it takes care to moderate its latest radical foreign policy swing, the Philippines may find itself steadily sacrificing its ability to secure its maritime interests in order to achieve an illusory peace. Eventually, silence may fall upon its claims in the South China Sea.

This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here[1].


  1. ^ here (

Third maritime patrol ship inducted for security of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Third Maritime Patrol Ship Inducted For Security Of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor The induction ceremony was done in the presence of Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo.(Representative image Reuters)

Pakistan has inducted PMSS Dasht as the third Chinese-built maritime patrol ship for the protection and security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The other two ships are the PMSS Hingol and the PMSS Basol, reports the Dawn. The induction ceremony was done in the presence of Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo. Speaking on the occasion, Bizenjo said major challenges have been witnessed and experienced by Pakistan and with the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the nation has become a centre of global attention. The PMSS Dasht has been built for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) and arrived in Karachi earlier this month.

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Bizenjo was quoted, as saying, The CPEC has the potential to change the regional canvas and the world. The importance of the project for Pakistan s strategic strength and economic prosperity needs no elaboration. Every effort is being made to secure the important trade lifeline both on land and at sea. He added, The government allocated over USD 150 million to enable the PMSA fleet to protect our maritime area and sea lines of communication. This will add a great deal to the security fibre not only for the CPEC but for all maritime zones of Pakistan. He said that he had met a few Chinese engineers and technicians associated with the project and appreciated their valuable contribution and shows the strength of deep-rooted friendship between Islamabad and Beijing. Meanwhile, two more ships are under construction at the Karachi shipyard.

Family opens heart to three Chinese children with special needs

Troy mom Julie Tracy gets plenty of double takes when she s out with her five kids. Besides her older son and daughter, she has three special-needs children adopted from China. Two have albinism, a disorder characterized by lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes and poor vision. The third is missing three fingers on one hand.

I m from China, proclaims daughter Ellie, 7, a first-grader at Silver Creek Elementary School[1]. I came to America on an airplane. Some people ask, How did you get two fingers? And I say, I was born like that. That s how God made me. Julie, 46, and her husband, Chris, 53, have taught their children to be open and proud of their unconventional family. They would much rather people ask questions than stare.

Sometimes they re just curious, said daughter Summer, 20, a student at Western Illinois University[2] in Macomb. You don t see a lot of people with albinism, and it kind of makes people want to look at them. And of course, they re beautiful.


Julie Tracy plays with her son Isaac, 4, who was adopted from China in 2014, in their front yard in Troy.

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The three little ones can also be a handful, as evidenced on a recent weeknight, when they were waiting for Dad to bring home pizza. Isaac, 4, Sophie, 5, and Ellie crawled on Julie s lap, romped with their three dogs (a boxer named Maggie, a pug named Doodle and a cockapoo named Remington) and jumped up and down at the sound of Chris s car pulling in the driveway. Before racing off to dinner, Sophie summed up her mother in a way that might be expected of a preschooler who doesn t yet grasp the significance of her adoption.

She washes everything and puts it in the right places, said Sophie, brushing back long white hair. She s a good driver, and she s a very good cooker.

Seed planted at Grenada orphanage

The Tracys adoption story dates back to the 1980s, when Chris was in Grenada for an Army peace-keeping mission.

(Our platoon) would collect money for a local orphanage, and we would take the kids Christmas gifts, and we sang Christmas carols with them, he said. That made a big impression on me. Chris met Julie in 1989 at Fairmount Park[3] in Collinsville. He was a security guard, and she was a Southern Illinois University Carbondale[4] student working a summer job. They got married the following February. Chris graduated from police academy and worked 25 years as a state trooper, often dealing with abused and neglected children. Julie became a stay-at-home mom to Wyatt, now 18, and Summer.

I can t imagine not doing it. Once you see the need, you can t just turn away. Once your eyes are open, you can t pretend you don t know anymore.

Julie Tracy on adopting special-needs children

Through it all, Chris couldn t stop thinking about the idea of adopting a disadvantaged child. He felt it was God s will, and he mentioned it to Julie one morning after Sunday school in 2011.

I looked at him and said, People shouldn t smoke crack in church, she recalls, laughing. I didn t think he was serious. I was, like, We have two grown kids, and you re three years away from retirement. But it wasn t long before the couple was doing serious Internet research on international adoption. They settled on China, where government limits on family size have historically resulted in many special-needs children being abandoned.


Sophie Tracy, 5, and her sister, Ellie, 7, who Julie and Chris Tracy adopted from China, play with a ball in the front yard of their home in Troy.

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A Delaware-based agency matched them with Ellie. Julie and Chris called a family meeting.

We told our kids, and they were really excited, Julie said. Summer thought the big news was that I was going to have another baby. Wyatt always wanted more siblings.

Abandoned baby still had umbilical cord

Julie and Chris traveled to China to pick up Ellie in 2012. The 22-month-old with a deformed hand had been living at an orphanage since she was abandoned as a newborn with her umbilical cord still attached.


Ellie Tracy, 7, laughs as she plays with her siblings in their front yard in Troy, where she has lived since being adopted from China in 2012.

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Once back in America, Julie began reading about albino Chinese children, who are considered not only disabled but bad luck. That led the Tracys to adopt Isaac.

They showed us a picture of this chubby, blond-haired, beautiful boy, and I knew it was my son, Julie said. Summer went with Chris to get Issac in 2013. It didn t take long to realize the 11-month-old had a developmental delay that hadn t been disclosed, in addition to his near blindness.

His head was completely flat in back, Chris said. It was shockingly flat. He couldn t crawl. He couldn t sit up. We took him to a restaurant, and he couldn t eat. He didn t know how.

Since that time, Isaac has shown dramatic improvement with speech, occupational and physical therapy. Working with him helped Summer to decide to major in special education.

I think I have a really special bond with Isaac because it was me and my dad who picked him up, she said. When you see how these children are treated in China, just because they have different abilities, it breaks my heart. The Tracys adopted Sophie in 2015 when she was 3. They tried pursuing a fourth adoption last year, but it fell through. Now they re taking a pause.

It s tough, said Chris, who now works as a product-liability investigator. I d be lying if I said it wasn t. But my Harley doesn t tell me it loves me. I ve never heard of a bass boat hugging you. If you look at adoption, it s the perfect illustration of God s love for us. It s unconditional.

Family helps local foster parents

Julie and Chris s experience with adoption and church ministries exposed them to another need: Supplies for local foster children. As if they weren t busy enough, they founded a charitable organization called Equipping the Called [5]in 2014. The Tracys collect donated new and gently used clothing, baby bottles, diapers and toiletries and distribute them to licensed foster parents at no charge.


Chris and Julie Tracy, back row center, pose for a family portrait with their older children, Summer, 20, and Wyatt, 18, and, front row left to right, Sophie, 5, Isaac, 4, and Ellie, 7, who were adopted from China.

Zia Nizami [email protected]

The operation started in the couple s garage but recently evolved into a quaint boutique at 112 Market St. in Troy. Support comes from Bethel Baptist Church.[6]

Julie is constantly going, and I m, like, How do you do it? said Bethel volunteer Tracy Davis, 52, of Troy. It s just amazing. Tracy is most impressed by how Julie stays calm despite her hectic life and by the effort she puts into motherhood. She s constantly researching and trying to find ways to make life better for her children, particularly those with special needs.

When I think of the life that Isaac would have led if they hadn t stepped in … It just overwhelms me, Tracy said, noting he could have been bedridden without proper care. Visits to the Equipping the Called boutique are by appointment only. People can get more information by visiting[7] or calling Julie at 618-806-7806.

The Tracys are trying to be realistic about their limits, but they aren t ruling out adopting another special-needs child.

I can t imagine not doing it, Julie said. Once you see the need, you can t just turn away. Once your eyes are open, you can t pretend you don t know anymore.

At a glance

  • What: Equipping the Called
  • People served: Licensed foster parents
  • Where: 112 Market St. in Troy
  • Visits: By appointment
  • Needed items: Baby wash and lotion, other toiletries, diapers, pull-ups, baby bottles and wipes (the organization has enough clothing at this time)
  • Cash donations: Send to P.O. Box 171, Troy, IL 62294
  • Information: Visit[8] or call 618-806-7806


  1. ^ Silver Creek Elementary School (
  2. ^ Western Illinois University (
  3. ^ Fairmount Park (
  4. ^ Southern Illinois University Carbondale (
  5. ^ Equipping the Called (
  6. ^ Bethel Baptist Church. (
  7. ^ (
  8. ^ (
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