Thursday, June 20, 2024
 
 

Manila rejects Beijing’s South China Sea demands as “absurd”

Skirmishing expected to continue in disputed maritime boundary areas
Google Maps via VOA News
Second Thomas Shoal astride key global trade routes

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The Philippine Coast Guard accused its Chinese counterpart on June 7 of blocking efforts to evacuate a sick member of its armed forces in the South China Sea. It was the latest dispute in a longstanding territorial spat with China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, a corridor for over $3 trillion in annual maritime trade.

The Philippines’ National Security Council said on June 8 that it reaffirmed its commitment to uphold its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Second Thomas Shoal, where the country maintains a small maritime outpost.

“The Philippines will continue to maintain and supply its outposts in the South China Sea without seeking permission from any other country,” Manila’s National Security Advisor Secretary Eduardo Ano said. “Our operations are conducted within our own territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, and we will not be deterred by foreign interference or intimidation,” Ano added.

For its part, China’s Foreign Ministry said on June 7 that it would allow the Philippines to deliver supplies and evacuate personnel if Manila agreed to notify Beijing in advance. A senior Philippines’ official called that proposition “absurd, nonsense and unacceptable.”

China claims swathes of the South China Sea, including areas the Philippines views as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

While working hard to build massive new military facilities, including airstrips, on some disputed reefs in the vicinity, Beijing has barred delivery of construction materials needed for repairs and renovation to a decrepit former U.S. Navy World War II-era ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which Manila intentionally grounded and has operated as a military outpost in the disputed shoal since 1999 (Second Thomas Shoal).

The latest exchange of threats between Manila and Beijing comes not long after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asserted his country’s rights in the South China Sea during a top regional defense forum, the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, where he pledged not to yield in the contested sea.

Menacingly, Marcos warned that the death of any Filipino citizen at the hands of another country in the South China Sea would be “very close” to an act of war. This warning was issued in the presence of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun. Marcos went on to state “and our treaty partners, I believe, also hold that same standard.”

Marcos has sought out closer ties with the United States, with which the Philippines maintains a mutual defense treaty, which itself was significantly upgraded in 2023, but does not formally establish new permanent U.S. bases in the Philippines.

As part of that relationship, the U.S. has gained increased rights to use Philippine military bases and the two allies have expanded bilateral military exercises. Senior U.S. officials from US President Joe Biden on down consistently say the mutual defense pact is “iron-clad” and Philippine naval, coast guard and civilian vessels are covered by it.

This works fine in classical deterrence theory, but it is anybody’s guess when the trigger event for the next skirmish over the BRP Sierra Madre, or a similar event, may come.

Another troubling event occurred on June 17, prompting a call from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell to Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Maria Theresa Lazaro to review shared concerns over “China’s escalatory and irresponsible actions.”

 

 

 

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