Home SemasaGlobal China-Philippines aggression heightens in South China Sea

China-Philippines aggression heightens in South China Sea

by Adrian David

CANBERRA, 20 MARCH – The Philippines has stepped up defence cooperation with the United States, following heightened aggression with China in the South China Sea.

University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra Emeritus Professor of Politics, Carl Thayer observed that the Philippines had since last year, become the main focal point of maritime tensions in the region.

Thayer wrote that the Philippines coast guard and navy encountered numerous confrontations in the South China Sea over disputed claims on shoals and reefs encompassing the Spratly’s archipelago.

“This led to heightened patrols and more assertive behaviour from the Philippine which stepped up defence cooperation with the United States and its allies, conducting joint military exercises and giving the US access to new bases.

“They also engaged with Australia and regional states to bolster its defence capabilities and deter further Chinese aggression,” said Thayer, a Southeast Asia regional specialist on Vietnam.

He is Thayer Consultancy director who provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support.

Thayer noted that last year, China’s Coast Guard and maritime militia were deployed to the South China Sea in greater numbers, for longer periods of time and with more aggression than ever before.

He wrote that last November, US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Samuel Paparo noted that Chinese officers were following orders to be more ‘aggressive’ when it came to encounters with Western militaries.

In the same month, Thayer said that US acting Defence Deputy Secretary Mara Karlin called out ‘unprofessional and unsafe behaviour’ by the China’s People’s Liberation Army.

“A January 2024 report noted that in the second half of 2023, ‘physical encounters between Philippine and Chinese ships increased at an alarming rate’ during routine rotation and resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal.

“Last year, the Philippines adopted a more assertive posture in defending its sovereign jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone.

“Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr initiated an assertive transparency campaign to publicise Chinese acts of intimidation and coercion in near real time,” Thayer stressed.

He added that patrols by the Philippine Coast Guard increased in frequency to resupply and protect Filipino fishermen.

“But China continually challenged patrols in the West Philippine Sea, claiming they were violating Chinese sovereignty.

“Last October, a spokesperson for China’s Southern Theatre Command reported that it had warned off a Philippine Navy frigate for trespassing in the waters around Scarborough Shoal.

“This was the second time in three weeks that China had challenged Philippine naval ships operating in the West Philippine Sea,” Thayer reported.

Second Thomas Shoal, a low tide elevation, became a major point of confrontation as China took aggressive steps to prevent Philippine rotation and resupply missions to the beached BRP Sierra Madre.

He revealed that a serious incident took place in October when seven Chinese vessels surrounded and blocked the transit of four Philippine resupply boats.

A second incident, he explained, took place last December when China Goast Guard ships fired water cannons and rammed into the Philippine vessels.

Later that month, Thayer said China deployed up to 27 vessels around Second Thomas Shoal to prevent resupply.

“In response to Chinese aggression, the Marcos administration has stepped up defence engagement with the United States.

“Last February, the Philippines granted the United States temporary rotational access to four new bases under the ‘2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement’, bringing the total to nine bases.

“Last April, the Armed Forces of the Philippines hosted the 38th and largest iteration of ‘Exercise Balikatan’ with more than 17,600 participants, mainly from the United States.

“Also, last September, the Philippines and the United States conducted their first joint bilateral sail since 2016 in the South China Sea,” cited Thayer.

He made known that last October the Philippines, United States and six other countries participated in the seventh and largest iteration of ‘Exercise Sama Sama’.

Thayer revealed that last June the Philippine, US and Japanese national security advisors held their first joint talks to strengthen trilateral defence cooperation.

“In the same month, the Philippines Coast Guard held its first trilateral drills in the South China Sea with counterparts from the United States and Japan.

“Last August, Australia and the Philippines conducted the first ‘Exercise Alon’, a bilateral amphibious exercise in the South China Sea that included the participation of 120 US Marines.

“The following month, Australia and the Philippines elevated bilateral relations to a strategic partnership during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit.

“Notable progress was also made in negotiations to achieve a code of conduct in the South China Sea under Indonesia’s leadership as the Asean chair.

“Last February, the ‘32nd Asean Coordinating Council Meeting’ and ‘Asean Foreign Ministers Retreat’ resolved that Indonesia should ‘find new strategies/approaches to speed up the process of the code-of-conduct negotiation’,” wrote Thayer.

He added that Indonesia the following month, convened the ‘38th Asean-China Joint Working Group’ on the ‘Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Jakarta.

This was followed in May with the ‘20th Asean-China Senior Officials Meeting’ on the DOC in Vietnam after a hiatus of two years.

Thayer said in July last year, the ‘56th Asean Ministerial Meeting’ in Jakarta announced that the second of three readings of the code-of-conduct had been completed.

“At the same time, the ‘Asean-China Post Ministerial Conference’ adopted guidelines to accelerate negotiations on a code-of-conduct in the South China Sea.

“Last October, negotiators agreed to complete a final code-of-conduct within three years.

“This prompted Marcos, frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations, to announce that he would consult with Malaysia, Vietnam and other states on a separate code-of-conduct,” Thayer said.

He added that in response to a notable increase in Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, the Philippines adopted a more proactive posture last year to defend its sovereign jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea though increased patrols, especially around Second Thomas Shoal.

“The Philippines also markedly stepped up defence cooperation with the United States and its allies to enhance its capabilities and deter future Chinese aggression.

“Tensions in the West Philippine Sea could escalate this year if the Philippines takes steps to go beyond routine rotation and resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, or if it begins to enhance defence infrastructure on other islands in the West Philippine Sea,” Thayer summed up. – airtimes.my

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