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Monday, May 20, 2024

Now what?

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The Philippines, on a resupply mission to its World War II Sierra Madre vessel on Ayungin Shoal on Sunday, has filed yet another diplomatic protest against China through its embassy in Manila.

This is in response to maneuvers by Chinese vessels that led to collisions with two Philippine civilian ships on a humanitarian mission to BRP Sierra Madre, only 200 kilometers west of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers off China’s nearest major land mass, Hainan island.

Bears watching that the Philippines had summoned Chinese Ambasasdor Huang Xilian over the incident, but that he was reported out of town.

As of Oct. 23, the Philippines has filed 465 protests against China since January 2020. Of these, 122 were lodged during the 16-month Marcos administration, from which 55 were made in 2023.

Interesting that soon after the story broke, the Chinese Coast Guard claimed in a news alert the Philippines deliberately collided with its vessels to “make faults with China and the current situation.”

We are persuaded to agree with Philippine diplomatic officials who said China, not the Philippines, was responsible for escalating tensions and aggression in the West Philippine Sea through its dangerous and irresponsible maneuvers which imperiled Filipino lives.

With the maritime accident, only one of the two civilian vessels contracted by the military was able to successfully deliver essential supplies to troops stationed on the Sierra Madre, which is serving as an outpost in the disputed waters.

Officials said the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea is considering all possible actions in the event of future harassment by China, but stressed such actions will depend on instructions by higher authorities.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro himself said Chinese vessels “intentionally” hit the Philippine boats on that resupply mission, escalating a diplomatic row between the two countries in the contested area.

Teodoro’s words: “While conducting legitimate rotation and resupply operations within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels in blatant violation of international law harassed and intentionally hit Unaiza May 2 and Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Cabra.”

Concern continues to build up, even while the United States state department has reaffirmed that Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951 in Washington extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels and aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea.

Clearly the treaty cannot be invoked, but the collisions, deliberate or otherwise, resoundingly suggest the behavior of the giant neighbor which has petulantly ignored the 2016 international arbitral ruling.

It claims, with its mythical ten-dash line, almost the entire South China, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes every year.

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