Home » China’s Tough Stance in South China Sea ‘May Be Sign of Its Unhappiness Over Closer Philippine Ties With US’
China Featured News Politics

China’s Tough Stance in South China Sea ‘May Be Sign of Its Unhappiness Over Closer Philippine Ties With US’

China is trying to signal its unhappiness with the Philippines and its strengthening alliance with the US by taking a tougher stance on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, according to observers.

Tensions between the rival claimants are rising, after China’s coastguard used water cannons to disrupt a mission to deliver supplies to Philippine troops stationed on an second world war warship that was deliberately grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal to assert Manila’s claim to sovereignty.

China also claims the reef in the Spratly Islands and its coastguard has issued several statements since last weekend’s confrontation accusing the Philippines of “repeatedly disregarding warnings from the Chinese side and attempting to deliver construction materials for the repair and reinforcement” of the ship.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

The Philippines, meanwhile, condemned what it called “dangerous manoeuvres” by the Chinese side, and President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr has denied China’s claim that his country had promised to remove the ship, the BRP Sierra Madre.

Previous Philippine supply missions have also led to confrontations, including an incident in February where Manila accused the Chinese coastguard of pointing military-grade lasers at one of its ships.

At that time Beijing denied the accusation, with the Chinese foreign ministry calling for communication between the two sides to handle maritime disputes.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute think tank, said the hard line taken by Beijing after the latest incident may reflect its anger over the stronger ties between Manila and Washington under Marcos.

“China has upped the ante in the South China Sea to signal its displeasure with the Marcos administration for taking a stronger line over the maritime dispute and for strengthening the country’s alliance with the United States, including forthcoming joint naval patrols.”

Beijing was upset when Manila allowed Washington access to four more military bases in April. The bases include one close to China’s artificial islands on the Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs in the Spratly archipelago and two sites that are about 500km (310 miles) from Taiwan, now a major potential flashpoint.

In another effort to reinvigorate its alliance with the US, the Philippines said it would resume joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea that had been halted by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

Ding Duo, an associate research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in southern China’s Hainan province, said: “The strengthening of the US-Philippine alliance may indeed have a certain impact, especially when the Philippines is increasingly willing to strategically align with the US, which actually has implications for China’s security as well.

“But the starting point is still more down to China’s need to safeguard territorial sovereignty, with China trying to draw a bottom line over the territorial disputes.”

In what is believed as an attempt to counter US influence, Chian has also offered to hold joint military drills with the Philippines, but Jonathan Malaya, the assistant director general of the Philippine National Security Council, has said there is no legal basis for such exercises.

Soon after the incident was made public on Sunday, Beijing said the US had tried to “encourage and support the Philippines in repairing and reinforcing” the BRP Sierra Madre.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the US also tried to threaten China by highlighting its Mutual Defence Treaty with the Philippines, which would oblige Washington to come to Manila’s aid were one of its vessels to come under attack in internationally recognised Philippine waters.

While it is expected that Beijing and Manila may try to keep the confrontation from escalating further, observers said the latest confrontation would cast a shadow over the ongoing negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, the Philippine military said that it was ready for another resupply mission “within the next two weeks”.

The grounded Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Photo: AFP alt=The grounded Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Photo: AFP>

“The atmosphere would not be ideal [for code of conduct talks] and the Philippines may take a tougher stance or raise its bargaining in the talks,” Ding said.

Storey said the recent events “only highlight the need for a [code of conduct] for the South China Sea”. However, a final document – which would help manage disputes – could still be years away due to disagreements about the geographic scope of the agreement and whether it should be legally binding.

“Unfortunately final agreement is unlikely to be reached this year or even next year,” Storey added.

Source: Yahoo Finance