Philippines Vows to Keep Exposing Chinese Incursions in South China Sea

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The Philippines will keep exposing Chinese ship incursions in the South China Sea as part of its strategy to drive Chinese forces out of its territorial waters, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Sunday.

PCG spokesman Jay Tarriela said this would prompt the international community to criticize China’s actions and prevent Chinese vessels from occupying Philippine-controlled islands in the disputed waters.

“If you let them swarm in a particular area where you can’t make them public, or nobody knows, it might be the best approach for them to occupy [the area] and take control over it,” Mr. Tarriela told a local broadcaster.

“So it’s very important for us to expose it, and then only then will we follow with the deployment of our government assets,” the PCG official added.

Mr. Tarriela said the PCG also would increase navy patrols in areas where Chinese ships have been spotted, particularly in Iroquois Reef, where an “alarming presence” of Chinese vessels had been reported.

Over 50 Chinese Ships Spotted

The Philippine military reported spotting 48 Chinese fishing boats around Iroquois Reef, south of the Recto Bank—an oil- and gas-rich reef located within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—on June 30.

A member of the Philippine coast guard vessel BRP Malabrigo manning his post while being shadowed by a Chinese coast guard ship at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, on April 23, 2023. (Ted Ajibe/AFP via Getty Images)

The Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) said that pilots aboard NV312, a Britten Norman Islander light patrol aircraft of the Philippine Navy, reported the incident after making multiple flights over Iroquois Reef.

Five other Chinese ships—three Chinese coast guard ships and two People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels—were “regularly loitering” at Sabina Shoal, which is part of the Spratly Islands, according to the AFP.

It stated that reports would be submitted to higher authorities for possible filing of a diplomatic protest.

“These developments raise an alarming concern about China’s intentions and actions within these waters,” the AFP stated on Facebook.

“Recto Bank, a significant feature for the Philippines holding immense potential for the country’s energy security and economic growth, stands as a focal point in this rising concern over China’s recent behavior,” it added.

Meanwhile, the PCG said that its vessels—BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua—were “followed, harassed, and obstructed” by two Chinese coast guard ships while they were assisting a naval operation in the Ayungin Shoal on June 30.

US, Japan, France Voice Concern

The United States, Japan, and France have voiced their concerns and called on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to adhere to international law and the 2016 ruling of the Hague Tribunal, which backed the Philippines’s claims in the South China Sea.

“We are concerned by the unprofessional maneuvers of the China coast guard against the Philippines coast guard,” U.S. envoy MaryKay Carlson stated on Twitter.

“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] irresponsible behavior in the South China Sea threatens the security and legal rights of our treaty ally, the Philippines,” she added.

Japan’s embassy said that “China’s unilateral actions” in the disputed waters posed a “grave concern” for regional peace and stability, while France’s embassy said it “resolutely opposed to any use of force or threat” in the South China Sea.

‘Reputational Cost’ on China

Raymond Powell, a former U.S. Air Force official, described the South China Sea as a “hotbed of gray zone activity,” where the CCP “can act without being directly seen, or noticed, or publicly held accountable.”

“When it’s a gray zone activity, generally speaking, the message is to the government of the country involved, and the message is: ‘You don’t want to escalate this. You want to have your relationship with China be as uncomplicated as possible. So now that you know we’re the jurisdiction here, keep this between us,’” Mr. Powell, a fellow at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, told Radio Free Asia on July 4.

Mr. Powell said that publicizing such incidents would impose a reputational cost on China.

“So what the Philippines has been doing with releasing photos and videos of incidents has been trying to illuminate this gray zone,” he said. “Our hypothesis is that if you illuminate gray zone activity, you do two things: You build resilience into your own society against that activity, so that people begin to expect and give you room to push back. And then, also, in the long-term, you hope to deter that activity because now, the gray zone actor—China—is paying a reputational cost.”

Beijing claims much of the South China Sea as its own territory under its so-called nine-dash line. The Hague Tribunal ruled in favor of legal action taken by the Philippines in 2016, but it had little to no effect on China’s actions.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei have also clashed with the Chinese regime over its claims in the South China Sea.

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