[Note: I just received the following information by telephone from several of the BS7H 1997 team members who are still in Guangzhou. I realize that the DX community has been waiting very patiently for this information, however, I have not had the complete story myself until this time. Because of the obvious political sensitivities, it was my decision not to release anything regarding the early shut down of operations until I could verify the full details with the operating team. Your understanding is appreciated. --N4GN]
And now the story you've all been waiting for . . .
As has been widely reported in the media, the Philippine government announced on 28 April (within hours of the BS7H/MM departure from Guangzhou) that three Chinese military ships had been spotted in the area around Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Mischief Reef is claimed by both the Philippines and China. Philippine President Fidel Ramos immediately lodged an official diplomatic protest with Beijing, and ordered increased Navy and Air Force presence in the area.
Although the Spratly Islands lie some 300 miles to the south of Scarborough Reef, news of the escalating tensions in the region was immediately relayed to the BS7H crew. The expedition to Scarborough actually involved two P.R.C. Ocean Bureau vessels--one carrying the BS7H team with an Ocean Bureau crew, the other carrying only Ocean Bureau personnel. The two Ocean Bureau captains were disturbed by the news from the Spratly Islands, but everyone agreed to press on toward Scarborough.
On the first day of on-the-air operations by BS7H (30 April), two Philippine military reconnaisance jets overflew the reef at low altitude. Then, late on 01 May, a Philippine Navy ship arrived at the reef, eventually followed by a second Philippine military vessel.
Philippine Navy officers visited each of the three BS7H operating sites. They were reported to be very friendly--even bringing medicine to relieve the gastrointestinal ills suffered by some of the BS7H team! In discussions with the BS7H team and the captain of the lead Ocean Bureau vessel, however, the officers asserted the Philippine position that Scarborough Reef lies within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by the Philippines.
It is important to note that the Philippine officers admitted that there is no Philippine claim to the reef itself. The captain of the lead Ocean Bureau ship, of course, stated the Chinese position that Scarborough reef is P.R.C. territory and provides the baseline for a 12 nautical mile Territorial Sea (TS) surrounding the reef. [Despite recent speculation posted to the DX reflector, China is the undisputed owner of Scarborough Reef. Substantial evidence supporting this fact was submitted to the ARRL DX Advisory Committee, including official statements from the Philippine government. --N4GN]
At first, the Philippine Navy seemed to be concerned that the amateur radio operations of BS7H were somehow an 'economic activity' subject to treatment under an EEZ claim similar to commercial fishing or oil drilling. But after observing the pileup operations, this concern was apparently satisfied. Still, the Navy officers insisted that it was O.K. for the P.R.C. ships to safely pass through the Philippine-claimed EEZ, but that they should not stop in any one place for a prolonged period of time. [This does not appear to be in accordance with the Third U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). --N4GN]
The captain of the lead Ocean Bureau ship was unable to reach any agreement with the Philippine Navy officers on this point. Finally, wishing to avoid a further escalation of tensions, the Ocean Bureau captains made the decision to leave the reef and return to Guangzhou, cutting the planned seven-day BS7H operation down to only three days.For additional information, please visit the BS7H 1997 Home Page (http://www.n4gn.com/sr/) or contact Tim Totten, N4GN, at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax +1-502-239-7766.