The Chinese foreign ministry has boldly justified its recent use of a military-grade laser against a Philippine Coast Guard resupply vessel en route to the Ayungin Shoal recently to bring supplies to military troops stationed there, repeating its adamant claim that the area is Chinese territory.

Beijing’s territorial assertions over the entire South China Sea are of course patently without any legal maritime basis, yet it continues to stick to this self-serving narrative despite the 2016 The Hague ruling. Its behavior towards the Philippines remains that of a bully, and no one has dared to challenge or put it in place.

China’s behavior towards the Philippines is plainly abusive and arrogant. It uses diplomacy as a mere pretense to resolve disputes while employing subterfuge aimed at exercising effective physical control over the disputed maritime territories. It had been behaving this way since it occupied Mischief Reef in 1994, with an official justification offered to the Philippine government that it merely intended to build a simple shelter for its fishermen.

Before this laser incident, there was that of a downed satellite rocket debris off Pag-asa Island that it forcibly took away from a Philippine Coast Guard patrol that retrieved it. Lying through its teeth, its foreign ministry claimed the Philippine Navy crew voluntarily gave it up to them following a supposedly friendly exchange. There was a video recording of the incident that demonstrated the opposite.

No thanks to the Duterte administration, which empowered and emboldened China to hold sway over the West Philippine Sea by buying and embracing its BS, the Chinese Coast Guard is now continuing to push the envelope beyond risky limits. To some, the laser incident was a direct act of aggression that qualifies as an attack against the Philippines. Some policymakers even view it as a trigger for the Mutual Defense Agreement with the United States.

The ideal end game for the Philippines in this marathon dispute is to force China to genuinely respect diplomacy and behave as a decent and civilized nation. How to achieve this has been a tall order, seeing how Beijing continues to ignore international opinion and instead resorts to lies and deception. The situation is treading towards China’s path of deploying its forces to blow up the marines from Ayungin Shoal and evict the settlement from Pag-asa Island, the international community be damned.

The Philippine government cannot continue to let the Chinese exercise total control over the West Philippine Sea, as the reality currently is. It needs to effectively rally international pressure to put China in place.

It is a task and a tall order for Philippine foreign policy experts to see how this can be achieved. De-escalation remains the only option for the country, as we simply don’t have the naval muscle to check the China Coast Guard, much less its navy. The other policy tracks can be scary and deadly.