The Hindu (Mumbai)

Troubled waters

China should adopt dialogue to resolve disputes with neighbours


ensions between China and the Philippine­s soared on Tuesday after Manila spoke of China’s “reckless and illegal” actions in the South China Sea, blocking its resupply mission. According to the Philippine Coast Guard, its boats were stopped near Second Thomas Shoal, where a group of sailors have been living on board a warship that was sunk by the Philippine forces 25 years ago to reinforce their sovereignt­y claims. One of the Philippine­s’s boats suffered “minor structural damage” in the incident, the Coast Guard said. There have been repeated incidents between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards in the South China Sea. In September last year, Philippine forces removed a 300metre floating barrier installed by China near the disputed Scarboroug­h Shoal, which triggered a warning from Beijing. In Tuesday’s incident, China blamed the Philippine­s, saying its ships had illegally intruded into the waters around the Shoal. The source of the problem is contesting claims. China claims almost all of the South China Sea. It seized Scarboroug­h Shoal, a triangular reef encircling a resourceri­ch lagoon, from the Philippine­s in 2012. Manila got a favourable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitratio­n in The Hague over the Shoal but Beijing ignored it. The Philippine­s sends regular resupplies to Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ren’ai Jiao in China, which lies about 200 km from the Philippine island of Palawan. But in recent months, activities by Chinese vessels around the Shoal have enhanced tensions.

What is adding to the tensions is the overall deteriorat­ion in ties between the two countries. When China took over the Scarboroug­h Shoal, the Philippine­s was cautious not to provoke its giant neighbour further. Rodrigo Duterte, the former President, constantly tried to play down tensions, but President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who assumed office in June 2022, took a different approach. He strengthen­ed the Philippine­s’s strategic and defence cooperatio­n with the U.S., angering Beijing. The U.S. now has access to nine Philippine military bases, and last year, Manila hosted its largest military exercise with the U.S. In the long term, Mr. Marcos Jr. wants to bolster the Philippine­s’s defence capabiliti­es and strengthen its strategic standing in the region, while in the short term, he seems ready to stand up to China’s coercive moves to protect his country’s sovereignt­y claims. On the other side, China sees the growing U.S.Philippine­s ties as a key challenge and has accused Washington of using Manila as a “pawn”. But China should realise that its sweeping unilateral claims over the South China sea and coercive steps towards its neighbours are not winning it any friends in the region. Instead, Beijing should opt for benign engagement and dialogue to address the disputes in one of the busiest waters in the world.


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