Strengthening its strategic ties with the United States remains the best strategy for the incoming administration in countering the continued aggression of China in the West Philippine Sea, a US expert on the maritime region stated over the weekend.
Gregory Poling, senior fellow and director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in a talk with Palawan media, noted that while the incoming Marcos administration has yet to fully articulate its foreign policy stance vis-a-vis China, he expects Beijing to simply continue with its tactic of harassment.
It has been part of a larger and longer strategy, he said, for Beijing to maintain pressure on the Philippines and assert its hegemony no matter what administration is in power.
“China’s policy has always been consistent. They are not changing their policy; they are going to continue harassing every Filipino until you give up and leave,” Poling said.
He noted that currently, China maintains at least one or two of its Coast Guard vessels patrolling around Ayungin on a daily basis and has maintained a constant presence on its completed artificial islands.
According to the Western Command (WESCOM), the latest reported incident of China’s aggressive display of authority over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) was when it shadowed and issued radio warnings against a Philippine supply vessel that went to BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin last June 20.
This shows, he said, that China has been maintaining a constant presence in the disputed area since the completion of its artificial islands.
So far, the Philippine Navy (PN) seems committed to keeping the ship resupplied. But it is getting increasingly difficult and the BRP Sierra Madre continues to deteriorate. “China will blockade the ship, again and again, hoping that eventually, the Philippines will be unable or unwilling to accept the risks of resupply,” Poling said.
Poling also thinks that China has not shown that it is ready to go to war with the Philippines over the disputed seas, mostly because the United States is helping the Philippine government.
He cited as an example, China’s decision to stand down when a U.S. Poseidon spy and combat plane flew alongside a PN plane to provide support to a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in 2014.
“The Chinese followed them for a while and then backed off. China doesn’t actually want to get into a fight,” he said. “The incident was a lesson in how maintaining close alliance coordination provides the Philippines its best deterrent against China.”
“The most important thing that still needs to be done is to undertake closer coordination with the United States under the alliance,” he added, citing that the government must have plans in place to resupply by both air and sea in the event of another blockade.