After a recent close collision involving a Philippines coast guard vessel in the South China Sea, the US demanded China halt provocative and dangerous conduct, stepping up criticism ahead of a visit by the Philippine leader to the White House.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller issued a statement saying that the event was an indicator of China’s intimidation and harassment of Philippine warships in the disputed waterway.
Given its close location to key sea lanes and Taiwan, the Philippines is of particular strategic importance, and President Biden has been working to strengthen relations with Asian allies while the United States’ relationship with China is still tense.
Reports show the incident around the Spratly Islands last Sunday was the most recent in a series of near-misses between Chinese and Filipino vessels at sea.
Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are without legal validity, yet the Chinese government continues to insist otherwise.
In the Spratly Islands, the Philippine ships were getting close to Second Thomas Shoal. (“Ren’ai Jiao” in China.)
Reports reveal that a Chinese Coast Guard ship went directly into the path of the Philippine journalist boat BRP Malapascua as it approached the shoal. The captain of the Malapascua said that the Chinese ship approached within 50 yards of his vessel and that only his swift efforts prevented the two ships from colliding.
As China becomes more active in the area, President Marcos has gravitated toward the US in an effort to enhance defense relations. Marcos has repeatedly said he would not allow China to undermine Philippine sovereignty in the sea.
China is worried that the United States is attempting to build an obstacle between the Philipines and China because of this change in policy.
Manila has a vested interest in maintaining good relations with China, its primary economic partner, but public resistance to US military deployment in the past makes this an especially difficult matter.
A plan for supplying US defense aid to the Philippines over the next ten years has been agreed upon and should be finalized in the next few months.