How will Beijing respond to Manila’s plans to build on South China Sea reef?

Published January 3, 2024
  • The Philippines allocates funds to build ‘permanent structure’ on disputed Second Thomas Shoal
  • The move will probably not cause ‘full-scale escalation’ of tensions but China is prepared to address further provocations, observers say


Manila’s approval of funding to build a “permanent structure” on a disputed reef is unlikely to lead to a “full-scale escalation” in the South China Sea, but Beijing has “many plans” to respond if the Philippines goes along with US provocations in the region, analysts said.
Tensions between Beijing and Manila over the Second Thomas Shoal were renewed last month after the Philippine congress allocated an undisclosed amount of money to build a permanent facility on the disputed reef, prompting strong condemnation from Beijing.

The Philippine military said the facility would probably serve as a shelter for fishermen.

Beijing considers the Second Thomas Shoal – known as Renai Jiao in China and Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines – its territory and has vowed to “respond resolutely” to protect its sovereignty.

China to ‘respond resolutely’ if Philippines builds structure on disputed reef

Zhu Feng, a South China Sea specialist at Nanjing University, said Manila’s latest move “adds fuel” to the tensions between China and the Philippines. But he questioned whether the Philippine facility would even be built, noting that the success of the project would depend on communication between the two sides.

“It will be difficult for China to make concessions over its sovereignty,” he said, adding Manila would not easily back down because of the domestic political interests of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr.


RELATED: China Protests as U.S. Carrier Goes on Patrol With Philippine Navy

Published January 3, 2024

The U.S. Navy has pledged to conduct patrols with the Philippine military in the South China Sea, and while the first had a low profile, the second will not. This week, the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group will carry out a two-day joint patrol with Philippine forces. If past events are any guide, the drills will draw an angry response from the government of China, which claims the vast majority of the South China Sea as its own, including parts of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

The carrier USS Carl Vinson leads the exercise, accompanied by cruiser USS Princeton and destroyers USS Sterett and USS Kidd. The Philippine contributions include the former U.S. Coast Guard cutters USCGC Hamilton and USCGC Dallas, which were transferred to the Philippine Navy and renamed. A small Indonesian-built amphib, BRP Davao del Sur, rounds out the group.

The partners will carry out largely peaceful maneuvers, like cross-deck exchanges and passing exercises.

“The maritime cooperative activity marks a significant leap in our alliance and interoperability with the United States. It also demonstrates our progress in defense capabilities and development as a world-class armed force,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr.

The Philippines is America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia, and U.S. involvement in its defense dates back to the colonial era of the late 1800s. The Philippines provides the United States with base access in multiple locations around the country, including strategic sites on Palawan and on the Luzon Strait.

“Sailing and operating together demonstrates our commitment to improving our interoperability and information sharing with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to enhance our ability to coordinate on maritime domain awareness and other shared security interests,” said the strike group’s commander, Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello.



RELATED: Carrier USS Carl Vinson Sails with Philippine Navy in South China Sea

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) recovers aircraft during flight operations on Nov. 19, 2023. US Navy Photo
Published January 3, 2024

Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) began drills in the South China Sea with the Philippine Navy on Wednesday the U.S. Navy announced. Meanwhile, the Chief of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) said in his New Year address that the service will further increase its efforts with its allies and partners to navigate “through the raging waves of global security challenges.”

The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group – made up of Vinson (CVN-70) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59), missile destroyers USS Kidd (DDG-100) and USS Sterett (DDG-104) – will conduct a two day sail with Philippine Navy offshore patrol vessels BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PS-15) (ex-USCGC Hamilton WHEC-715) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) (ex-USCGC Dallas WHEC-716), and landing platform dock BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602).

The drills are designed to “advance combined capabilities in the maritime domain,” said the release. The allied forces will sail together and participate in enhanced planning and advanced maritime communication operations.

“Our strike group welcomes the opportunity to conduct maritime activities,” said Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello, commander of CSG-1, said in the release.
“Sailing and operating together demonstrates our commitment to improving our interoperability and information sharing with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to enhance our ability to coordinate on maritime domain awareness and other shared security interests.”

The CSG, following its departure from Singapore on Dec. 21 after a port visit, has been operating in the South China Sea, according to a Dec. 27 Navy release. The Carl Vinson CSG departed San Diego on Oct. 12 for a scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific. Destroyers USS Hopper (DDG-70) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) are also part of the CSG but operating independently.





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