In late 2023, reports of accidents between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea began to increase at an alarming rate. A Chinese ship used a water cannon to ram a Philippine ship seeking resupply at the Second Thomas Shoal outpost, which is also claimed by China. Manila reported “swarms” of other disputed reefs by Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia. The Philippine government has made clear that it expects these conflicts to continue and intensify further in 2024.
Diplomat Editor-in-Chief Shannon Tiezzi interviews South China Sea expert Gregory Poling about the China-Philippines conflict, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s strategy, and the role of the Philippine-US alliance.
Pauling, director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noted that these tensions have been simmering for more than a decade. “The deepening U.S.-Philippine alliance is a symptom of China’s actions in the South China Sea, not the cause,” Pauling said.
In October, November, and December, a series of collisions, including multiple collisions, were reported between Chinese and Philippine vessels near disputed areas in the South China Sea. Is the frequency of such encounters new, or is it simply “new to us” in the sense that the Philippines has not publicized these incidents before?
A little bit of both. The frequency and intensity of these collisions is steadily increasing, starting in spring 2022. However, since late 2013, China has maintained daily coast guard patrols around Second Thomas Shoal, where these incidents occurred, and regularly deploys maritime militia. China has also repeatedly blocked or harassed Philippine resupply missions to troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal under the previous Aquino and Duterte administrations. But during the latter period, Manila did its best to hide these people.