Manila 'inviting wolf into the house' will backfire
Published: Mar 26, 2024 07:15 PM
Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

Recently, the Philippines once again attempted to illegally transport construction materials to Ren'ai Jiao (Ren'ai Reef) in the South China Sea, but was intercepted and expelled by the China Coast Guard. They were intercepted and stopped by the Chinese coast guard in accordance with the law. As pointed out by the relevant Chinese authorities, the actions of the Philippines violate China's territorial sovereignty over Ren'ai Jiao in the South China Sea, disrupting peace and stability in the region.

The Philippines has disregarded China's patience, and restraint on relevant issues, as well as their commitment at the operational level to manage differences between the two sides. Looking at the recent actions of the Philippine government on the South China Sea issue, it is not difficult to see what their motives are. 

First, the Philippines has long been trying to occupy China's islands and reefs in the South China Sea, with different methods and cover-ups used at different times. Second, encouraged by the Biden administration's strengthening of the US-Philippines alliance, the Philippines has adjusted its South China Sea policy under US pressure and inducement, becoming more adventurous and speculative. Third, following the illegal ruling of the South China Sea arbitration case, the Philippines has been trying to legitimize it in various ways and use the ruling to endorse its illegal claims and provocations in the South China Sea. 

Fourth, in order to divert domestic conflicts, the Philippine government needs to constantly escalate maritime tensions to create an "external enemy" and alleviate the pressure of governing due to high inflation, high unemployment and widespread drug problems. Fifth, the Philippines is concerned that the outcome of this year's US election may affect the direction of the US-Philippines alliance, so they are trying to test the US by creating maritime friction to see what substantive security guarantees the US can provide to the Philippines.

It can be seen that the mentality of the Philippines to engage in low-intensity conflicts with China in the so-called "gray zone" and attempt to take advantage may persist in the long term. The malicious hype and smearing of China by the Philippines and the West, including the US, in the international public opinion arena and in international maritime affairs is also likely to continue. On the other hand, the restraint from within the Philippines against the Marcos Jr government's provocations against China in the South China Sea is decreasing, and the pro-American stance of the Philippine government is very obvious. In this context, various departments of the Philippine government, due to their respective political interests, are increasingly less concerned about what is most beneficial to China-Philippines relations and the stability of the South China Sea. Within the Philippines, objective and rational voices are becoming increasingly difficult to hear. 

The Philippines may further escalate maritime incidents such as Ren'ai Jiao, Huangyan Dao (Huangyan Island), and Tiexian Jiao (Tiexian Reef) in a coordinated manner to increase the intensity of provocations. The Philippines engaging in so-called joint air and sea patrols with certain foreign countries may exacerbate tensions at sea. China has always maintained a high level of vigilance against Philippine maritime provocations and is prepared to respond. From the perspective of on-site control and the ability to safeguard rights and stability, no matter how the Philippines stirs up trouble at sea, it will not exceed China's effective response and disposal capabilities. Chinese people say, "Listen to their words and observe their actions." In response to the Philippines' untrustworthy behavior, China will take corresponding and more powerful countermeasures.

After the provocation by the Philippines on March 23, some countries outside the region stood up to back the Philippines, represented by the US. In fact, the involvement in the South China Sea by countries outside the region is not constructive but destructive to regional peace and stability. Currently, some powers outside the region are laying out their strategies, while the countries involved are seeking to gain benefits from the South China Sea tensions. 

As maritime friction intensifies, the Philippines and some countries attempt to deter China by conducting joint sea and air patrols, carrying out military exercises, and enhancing security mechanisms. The build-up of military power in the South China Sea will not only bring discomfort to ASEAN countries, but may also exacerbate the resurgence of the cold war mentality, triggering a bloc confrontation in this region. This is not welcome among regional countries, and will certainly be resisted by China and ASEAN countries. 

Judging from historical experience and regional reality, the evil consequences of the Philippines' "inviting the wolf into the house" will ultimately have to be suffered by the regional countries. ASEAN countries need to be vigilant, and should be soberly aware that direct consultation between the Philippines and China as well as joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries are vital to the long-term interests and stability of the regional countries.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of Maritime Law and Policy at the China Institute for South China Sea Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn