Collision or ramming?

When nations compete for dominance, the concepts of fairness and sovereignty often go by the wayside. This weekend’s collision of Philippine vessels with Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea should serve as a vivid reminder of China’s aggressive expansionism in this crucial maritime region. While troubling, this incident is just part of a larger pattern of Chinese harassment of Philippine vessels within our territorial waters.

China once again relied on its victim-blaming strategy, accusing the Philippines of “deliberately stirring up trouble” in an incident that the Philippine Coast Guard allegedly planned. These claims are ridiculous and unfounded, part of China’s long-running endeavor to legitimize its illegal acts in the West Philippine Sea.

But regardless of Beijing’s bluster, the Philippines has the right to stand up to a neighborhood bully. Its claim to sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea is firmly rooted in the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling, which categorically rejected China’s extensive claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, including areas that overlap with the West Philippine Sea.

This landmark decision made it evident that China’s historical claims do not hold up under international law, in an area where competing claims by other countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have sparked geopolitical concerns.

Historically, the territorial irritants that have the potential to become full-blown conflicts have centered on fishing rights, oil and gas reserves, and the strategic importance of controlling these waterways. Still, unlike China’s bold territorial expansion and contempt for international jurisprudence, the Philippines’ approach is founded on the rule of law.

China’s predilections extend beyond the assertion of spurious territorial claims, as it includes the unauthorized construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea. These man-made islands function as military outposts, providing China with a strategic regional advantage. Such acts are not only illegal, but they also pose a direct threat to regional peace and stability.

As the Philippines struggles for its rights, exposing China’s duplicity on a global scale is critical. While China portrays itself as a rational and responsible nation in international crises such as the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the Israel-Hamas conflict, its actions in the South China Sea reflect a different face — that of a regional bully.

China cannot preach peace and diplomacy while actively pursuing territorial expansion and disregarding international law when it does not support its aspirations.

The collision (or was it an intentional incident of ramming by China of Philippine vessels?) near the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands is just the latest chapter in China’s unrelenting pursuit of regional supremacy. Philippine efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and defend international law merit support not only from its neighbors, but also from the world community at large.

The West Philippine Sea is more than just a body of water; it represents sovereignty, justice, and the triumph of law over aggression. The Philippines’ resistance to China’s bullying is a fight for the rights of all nations that value international norms, territorial integrity, and conflict resolution through peaceful means.

China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea and its disrespect for the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration must be countered by the international community with the position that in the South China Sea, might does not equal right.

As we consider the perilous situation in the West Philippine Sea, it’s critical to understand that this is not a one-off occurrence but part of a larger pattern. The Philippines has been subjected to constant harassment by Chinese vessels within its own waters.

Filipino fishermen are being harassed, maritime resources (like coral reefs) are being pillaged, and Filipino military troops are being put in danger by Chinese warships that have no business being in Philippine waters. There can never be a repeat of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, which allowed China to build bases on man-made islands.

As it stands resolute against China’s gunboat diplomacy, the Philippines serves as a beacon of hope for all nations confronting unjustified hostility. The Philippines’ dedication to upholding international law, maintaining its sovereignty, and defending its people’s rights is admirable.

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