China-Philippines ties on ‘brink of total breakdown’: unpacking the collapse

Published June 29, 2024


  • Their churning South China Sea quarrel has now reached ‘boiling point’ – and Filipinos are demanding action
Concrete pillars once dotted the landscape of Malolos, north of Manila, in the grand first phase of a billion-peso Chinese-backed rail project meant to transform transport in the Philippines. That was in 2008: a time of promise and partnership with Beijing.

Fast forward 16 years and those 80 support pillars are now gone, torn down after the ambitious Northrail scheme was abandoned amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Yet 200km to the northwest, a new structure is taking shape – one with very different intentions.

Inside a Philippine naval base on the western shores of Luzon, workers are quietly erecting the country’s first supersonic cruise missile outpost. With a 300km range, the BrahMos missiles will be capable of striking Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese naval forces have gathered. This burgeoning military installation represents the latest flashpoint in the Philippines’ increasingly acrimonious stand-off with its one-time partner.

What began as a story of infrastructure cooperation has morphed into an epic tale of betrayal and confrontation, the once-chummy relationship between Manila and Beijing giving way to escalating geopolitical rivalry. The rise and fall of those Northrail pillars now bookend a new, more ominous chapter.

At the heart of the falling out is Beijing’s assertion, through its “nine-dash-line” – lately expanded to 10-dashes – that it owns nearly all of the South China Sea. Its expansive maritime claim has led China to encroach on waters over which the Philippines also claims sovereignty.

“I think relations are the worst in recent memory because the hostility and aggression of China at both the strategic and tactical levels are palpable,” former senator and retired naval officer Antonio Trilllanes told This Week in Asia.



RELATED: China-Philippines Ties on the ‘Brink of Total Breakdown’: Unpacking the Collapse

Published June 29, 2024


The relationship between China and the Philippines, once characterized by mutual cooperation and significant economic ties, is now on the brink of total breakdown. This deterioration has profound implications for regional stability in Southeast Asia. To understand the factors leading to this collapse, it is essential to examine the historical context, recent developments, and the underlying geopolitical tensions between the two nations.

Historical Context

The China-Philippines relationship has always been complex, shaped by a mix of cooperation and contention. Historically, the two countries have enjoyed cultural and economic exchanges, with China being a significant trading partner for the Philippines. However, the South China Sea dispute has been a perennial source of tension. Despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines, China has continued its activities in the contested waters, leading to periodic flare-ups.

Recent Developments

1. South China Sea Disputes: The most significant factor in the current downturn is the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea. China’s aggressive assertion of its territorial claims, including the construction of artificial islands and military installations, has provoked strong reactions from the Philippines. In recent months, incidents of Chinese vessels harassing Filipino fishermen and encroaching on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) have escalated tensions.

2. Diplomatic Incidents: Diplomatic spats have intensified, with both countries exchanging sharp rebukes. The Philippines has lodged numerous protests against China’s actions, while China has accused the Philippines of provocations, including the illegal occupation of features claimed by China.

3. Defense and Security: The Philippines has sought closer security ties with the United States and other regional allies in response to perceived threats from China. This includes joint military exercises and the increased presence of US military assets in the region, which China views as a direct challenge to its influence.

4. Economic Relations: Economic ties have also been strained. While China remains a crucial economic partner, the political climate has affected business confidence. Filipino businesses are wary of potential repercussions, and Chinese investments have faced scrutiny and delays.

Geopolitical Tensions

The breakdown in China-Philippines relations must be viewed within the broader context of US-China rivalry in the Asia-Pacific. The Philippines, a long-standing ally of the United States, is caught in the crossfire of this geopolitical contest. The US has bolstered its support for the Philippines, emphasizing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and opposing China’s maritime claims. This support, while reassuring to Manila, has further strained its relationship with Beijing.

Domestic Pressures

Domestic politics in both countries have also played a role. In the Philippines, there is growing public and political pressure on the government to take a harder stance against China’s incursions. Nationalism and defense of territorial sovereignty are potent issues that resonate with the Filipino electorate. In China, the leadership under President Xi Jinping is equally under pressure to project strength and resolve in defending China’s territorial claims.


The ties between China and the Philippines are on the brink of total breakdown due to a confluence of historical disputes, recent provocations, geopolitical dynamics, and domestic pressures. The potential collapse of this relationship poses risks not only for bilateral relations but also for regional stability and security in Southeast Asia. Moving forward, it will be crucial for both nations to engage in dialogue and seek peaceful resolutions to their differences to avoid further escalation and foster a more stable regional environment.




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Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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71% of the earth is covered by ocean, water is a 1000 times denser than air and the mass of the oceans are 360 times that of the atmosphere, small temperature changes in the oceans doesn’t only modulate air temperature, but it also affect the CO2 level according to Henry’s Law.

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