MANILA - Manila protested on Tuesday against Beijing's blockade of civilian supply ships in disputed waters of the South China Sea, saying China's latest actions "constitute a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines."
China's coast guard ships had driven away two Philippine vessels which had tried to approach a shoal in the South China Sea on Sunday, sparking the latest flare-up in a long-running territorial dispute.
The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned China's charge d' affaires Sun Xiangyang on Tuesday to hand over a strongly worded protest over the incident in the waters around the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines refers to as the Ayungin Shoal.
In a statement, the foreign ministry "urged China to desist from any further interference with the efforts of the Philippines to undertake rotation and resupply operations at the Ayungin Shoal."
"Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and (it) is therefore entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other states," the foreign ministry said.
The shoal, known in China as the Ren'ai reef.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the Chinese patrol ships warned the Philippine vessels, carrying construction materials, not to intrude further into the waters around the reef and they left the area.
China's claim over islands, reefs and atolls that form the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, has set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
International relations scholars of the Realist persuasion have long held that when faced with a security threat, states balance against it in two ways. The first way is through internal balancing; that is, by strengthening one’s own capabilities. This is the preferred balancing mechanism for states, according to realists, as it doesn’t force states to rely on allies’ goodwill in meeting their commitments, and doesn’t risk the state being dragged into others’ fights.
However, oftentimes the power disparity between a rising state and its adversaries means that internal balancing alone will not suffice in countering it. In these instances, realists contend, states will seek to align with third parties who also view the powerful state as a threat.
Although the social sciences are nowhere near as exact as the natural ones, East Asia over the past few months have largely followed this pattern, especially with regards to the Philippines and Japan—the two states who have been engaged in the most prolonged and intense maritime standoffs with China in recent years.
Thus, after wrangling with China in the Scarborough Shoal last year, the Philippines unveiled a US$1.8 billion military modernization plan that is heavy on weapons acquisition. Similarly, shortly after taking office in December, Shinzo Abe’s administration asked for two increases in in defense spending in January alone, even though Tokyo hadn’t raised military spending since 2002.
He has also sought to redefine the Japanese Self Defense Forces considerably, allowing them to undertake a far more expansive array of operations than in the past. Notably, one change Abe has been advocating particularly hard for is allowing the SDF to come to the aid of allied nations under the banner of self-defence.
But ultimately neither of these countries can unilaterally compete with China’s military power over the long-run. This is already true of the Philippines, given that in 2011 Beijing’s GDP was over 30 times as large as Manila’s economic output. Not surprisingly, Manila has decided to augment its own military build-up with an aggressive campaign to bring just about anyone to its side, from ASEAN and the U.S., to international courts, Russia and now Japan.