Ex-security adviser: Benham research may boost China's submarine warfare

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 20) — A former national security adviser warned of China's "hidden agenda" in conducting research in Benham Rise, saying it poses serious security threats.

Roilo Golez posed this scenario after the government announced it allowed research vessel Ke Xue of the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to conduct a "scientific exploration" in the area.

He said data collected on ocean currents, depth and directions, and other water properties may be used for other purposes like submarine warfare.

"The Navy will chart the seas, they will  look for the thermocline so they know where to hide - 200 meters or 150 meters, parati nandyan siya [it's always there], to avoid detection…Pwede silang maglagay ng [They can put a ] submarine sa Benham Rise," he said.

Thermocline, Golez said, is the area in the ocean where temperature changes rapidly, acting like a barrier causing sound energy to bend away, which could shield or hide a submarine.

"With that, they'll be able to project  their power not only to us. Imagine having a fleet of submarines  hidden deep inside Benham Rise.  It will be a threat to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the USA, and even to Australia," he warned.

Benham Rise is an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province. The United Nations declared it as part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf where the country has the sole right to its resources.

The University of the Philippines' (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea confirmed Ke Xue has already started its cruise, and as of Sunday anchored off near Santa Ana in Cagayan.

Th institute's director, Jay Batongbacal, however said it is unclear if there is Filipino on board the Chinese vessel. The government requires foreign countries exploring Benham Rise to have a Filipino scientist with them.

He said the UP Marine Science Institute was given a slot to board Ke Xue, but had to pass up on it due to a scheduling problem.

Batongbacal called on the government to be more transparent with its research approvals.

He questioned the access given to China, considering that in the past it had shown bad faith in its military buildup in the disputed South China Sea.

He reiterated Filipino scientists are capable of doing their own research in Benham Rise, with more support from government agencies.

"It seems we are constantly being bombarded  with this narrative that there is nothing we can do and we have to rely on China for just about everything, not just MSR (marine scientific research) but for infrastructure, patrolling the Sulu Sea, for  telecommunications. This trend is alarming. Add to that the lack of transparency as to the actual activities," Batongbacal said.