‘Russian roulette’: How China is playing a dangerous game with Philippines in South China Sea – Times of India

The South China Sea, a vital and strategic maritime region, has become a hotbed of geopolitical tensions involving territorial disputes among several nations, most notably between China and the Philippines. The involvement of the United States, as a key ally of the Philippines, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Here, we address some frequently asked questions to help explain the ongoing conflict and its broader implications.

What’s driving the news

In the contested waters of the South China Sea, a dangerous escalation is unfolding as China has intensified its maritime maneuvers against the Philippines, actions that significantly heighten the risk of drawing the United States into a direct conflict.Through a series of aggressive encounters, China’s coast guard and maritime militia have employed tactics aimed at undermining the Philippines’ capability to supply and maintain a military outpost on the Second Thomas Shoal, a territory both nations claim but lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, in early March, a Philippine boat became the target of Chinese aggression when two coast guard ships unleashed high-pressure water cannons against it, causing substantial damage and preventing the vessel from delivering supplies to the outpost. This incident was not isolated; subsequent encounters followed a similar pattern, with one particularly egregious episode leaving three Filipino navy personnel injured. These confrontations are part of a broader strategy by China to assert its dominion over the South China Sea, a critical and strategic maritime corridor.

How is the Philippines responding?

In response to China’s provocations, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has indicated that China’s actions constitute a crossing of the line, announcing a “response and countermeasure package” against China’s “open, unabating, and illegal” aggression. The US has underscored its commitment to the region, conducting joint patrols with the Philippine military and engaging in multinational naval exercises to affirm its alliance with the Philippines and deter Chinese assertiveness.

What are the risks of these encounters?

There are concerns that these increasingly tense encounters could result in a grave incident that could push the Philippines to invoke its mutual-defense treaty with the US, potentially spiraling into a broader conflict. As Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said, “If a Filipino sailor or soldier were killed, Manila could invoke the treaty. That would put our policy decision makers in a place that would require really tough choices.”

How is the US responding?

The US is seeking to demonstrate that it is paying close attention to the situation and has its ally’s back. This includes the US and Philippine militaries conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, with a US warship usually present nearby when the Philippine resupply convoy heads to Second Thomas Shoal. The US is also working to bring its regional allies, like Japan, closer together to counter China’s actions.
The US, along with allies such as Japan and Australia, has increased its military presence in the region, conducting joint patrols and naval exercises to deter Chinese aggression. These actions are part of a broader strategy to reinforce alliances and ensure a unified front against China’s maritime claims.
The United States will have a fundamentally changed military command posture at Japan’s planned new military command center to allow better coordination and increased deterrence in the face of Chinese pressure, the US ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel said.
Rahm Emanuel said US allies in the Indo-Pacific region were coming together in the face of China’s “coercion” and Beijing would end up isolated.

Between the lines

The US’s strategic presence in the South China Sea, alongside allies such as Japan and Australia, serves as a deterrent to China’s ambitions. Joint military exercises and the visible deployment of US warships during Philippine resupply missions are part of a broader strategy to reassure allies and uphold international law.
This “latticework” approach to security, involving multiple allies in various configurations, aims to create a collective front against unilateral actions by China.
Zack Cooper, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that US may need to send stronger deterrence signals. “We’re playing Russian roulette every six weeks or so with these resupply missions and you only get lucky so many times,” Cooper told WSJ.
(With inputs from agencies)

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