China must cool down

While Beijing has been accusing the Philippines of provocation in the West Philippine Sea, or WPS, it has indicated plans to increase its presence in the disputed area by sending the People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels.

The mainland, through its usual mouthpieces, has been assailing the multinational military exercise called “Sama-Sama,” which is a military exercise that involves the Philippines, the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, France, Australia, Indonesia, and New Zealand.

It is but part of the international effort to ensure that freedom of navigation is observed in the WPS as the Chinese Coast Guard and militias lately have swarmed the area based on the already discredited historical claim.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague invalidated the nine-dash line claim, but China refused to recognize it.

In a publication that serves as the sounding board of the Chinese Communist Party, the participants of the maritime drill were warned that “if the Philippines and countries outside the region, including the US, opt to send naval forces and escalate the current tensions in the South China Sea to a higher and more military level, China will have to send the PLA to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

A gray ship would escalate the situation since, at the moment, the Coast Guard, although the vessels are as large as battleships, and militia boats are used to hound Philippine vessels in the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The China conduit said it will counter “provocations reciprocally.”

“The Philippines sent coast guard vessels, so it was the China Coast Guard that dealt with them. But if the Philippines and the US escalate the tensions by sending their militaries, China will likely respond reciprocally,” Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the state-influenced international publication.

Song warned the Philippines: “If this happens, it will be the Philippines that is stuck in the middle of a China-US major power competition and will suffer the most.”

More warning was issued, “China will not tolerate the Philippines challenging its national sovereignty and security no matter who supports it, so the Philippines should manage risks and not go further on this wrong path, which was created by the US with sinister intentions of containing China, disrupting the Asia-Pacific region and benefiting at the Philippines’ expense.”

Regional experts said China is increasingly deploying the PLA to ramp up its maritime presence.

US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner assessed: “We have seen the PLA aircraft and maritime vessels continue to engage in coercive and risky behavior against US ally and partner forces operating following international law.”

In a forum, he said the dangerous shift has been happening in the Taiwan Strait and the East and the South China Seas and beyond.

China’s mouthpiece states, “The PLA is always ready to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the South China Sea.”

What is comforting, however, is that China is keeping from further escalating the situation.

On 17 September, the PLA Navy Type 056A corvette Aba rescued a wounded Philippine fisherman seeking help near Second Thomas Shoal or the Ayungin Shoal, the publication quoted a PLA Navy press release.

In the ongoing maritime war games, anti-submarine, anti-surface, anti-air, and electronic warfare drills were held about 340 kilometers from Scarborough Shoal, where the Sierra Madre transport ship has been grounded.

China again mentioned acts of provocations “since August.”

It said Philippine vessels made repeated attempts to send building materials “to reinforce a Philippine warship illegally grounded there since 1999, and a self-staged show hyping China’s setting up of a ‘floating barrier’ to block a Philippine vessel’s illegal entry.”

The PLA serves as the military organization of China and runs the Navy, the Air Force, and the Rocket Force in the South China Sea.

As neighbors, it behooves both Manila and Beijing to sit down and sort out the maritime strife despite their different viewpoints.

It worked before, and, thus, it will work now.

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