Rising Tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea

Tangible U.S. support to the Philippines will be required to check Chinese escalation. Publication Type: Analysis and Commentary Share This Print the Page For the past several months, China has been steadily increasing its pressure on the Philippines in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. In particular, China has actively interfered with the small Philippine garrison posted to Second Thomas Shoal. A vigorous U.S. response is required to deter further Chinese escalation. Chinese Coast Guard ships spray water cannons during an encounter with a Philippine government boat on its way to the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea on December 9, 2023. (Camille Elemia/The New York Times) The Philippine marines, living aboard a rusting World War II-era landing ship, are reliant on regular resupply of food and water from the main Philippine islands. Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and fishing boats have repeatedly tried to prevent Philippine ships from bringing supplies, in effect attempting to lay siege to the tiny outpost. In the most recent incidents, the Chinese have disabled one Philippine resupply vessel with water cannons and engaged in dangerous maneuvers that led to a collision between a Chinese and a Philippine vessel. These Chinese efforts reflect a sophisticated exploitation of “gray zone” and “hybrid warfare” techniques. By relying on CCG and ostensibly civilian craft (although the “fishing boats” are almost certainly part of China’s substantial maritime militia force), Beijing tries to blur the nature of its intervention and avoid the image of using armed force. Chinese Concerns About a Possible U.S. Intervention Notably, China has refrained from employing either People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels or lethal force. This is likely due to concerns about potential escalation, and especially about possible U.S. intervention. As a recent State Department statement explicitly noted : “The United […]

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