Militarization of the South China Sea: Philippines China Tensions as China Risks Collision
  • 2 years ago
MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Philippine Coast Guard has accused a Chinese Coast Guard boat of steering within meters of one of its vessels in the South China Sea, according to Agence France Presse.

The incident occured March 2, near the contested Scarborough Shoal, one of the region's richest fishing areas, and the Philippines’ statement accuses China of breaking international rules and risking a collision as its boat allegedly came within 19 meters of a Filipino patrol boat.

According to The Associated Press, the last 12 months has seen three similar incidents around the same area, with two coming in June during a Philippine maritime exercise and one coming a month before that when a Chinese Coast Guard ship moved close to a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries vessel.

Additionally, in November, a Chinese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon at Filipino boats trying to re-supply Filipino forces occupying the Second Thomas Shoal.

The broader context for all such confrontations is that China makes sweeping and contested claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, home to an estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, plus rich fishing grounds and strategically important shipping lanes.

These claims rest on the so-called ‘nine-dash line’ border, first inscribed on a Chinese map in 1947, according to Time Magazine and, despite the fact that a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against its legal legitimacy, China has looked to enforce it both with efforts at intimidation of other countries’ vessels and by physically building in the region.”

The Council on Foreign Relations explains: “In recent years, satellite imagery has shown China’s increased efforts to reclaim land in the South China Sea by physically increasing the size of islands or creating new islands altogether.”

Practically this means that in addition to piling sand onto existing reefs, China has built ports, military installations, and airstrips — most notably in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, where it has 20 and seven outposts, respectively.

Additionally, and more recently, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, published satellite images that show China is also aggressively building electronic warfare installations in the area with the same broad aims in mind.

The CSIS suggests that these installations could be designed to turn the waterway into an electronic ‘dead zone,’ in which U.S. ships and planes would find it hard to function.