Beijing wants Manila to abandon the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. Its ramming of two Filipino resupply boats Sunday was the latest of graduated pressures to make Ayungin’s marine sentries leave.
In the past, Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) gunboats perilously and illegally cut across Filipino civilian outriggers approaching Ayungin. CCG demanded that Filipinos leave China’s imagined “territorial waters”.
In Feb. 2023, CCG escalated to firing military-grade laser weapons at Filipino coastguards escorting the resupply ships. In August, it hazardously drew 40 yards too near to watercannon Filipino coastguards onboard a craft half its size.
Five to six CCG gunboats participated in each of those monthly provocations. Chinese maritime militia steel trawlers aided the dangerous maritime maneuvers. People’s Liberation Army-Navy warships hovered nearby.
Beijing’s next attempts to foil marine rotation and reprovisioning will be scarier. Bloodshed can result; in lives, limbs, and equipment being lost.
China’s communist rulers want Filipino soldiers and civilians to believe that Ayungin is just a reef and that the tide will soon wash away Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre grounded there. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting, said Sun Tzu.
That will depend on Filipino resolve. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Romeo Brawner, and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Chief Ronnie Gavan expressed the termination to defend the West Philippine Sea against foreign annexation.
In the wake of the ramming, the AFP, which had hired the civilian outriggers, scrambled its Western Command planes and ships. The PCG compiled all videos. The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) alerted the public.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) protested the ramming and summoned the Chinese ambassador to accept it. When the latter hid in his office, DFA demanded that his deputy show up.
AFP, PCG, NTF-WPS, and DFA regrouped Monday to brief the press. Malacañang convened a defense-security command conference.
Beijing’s application of Sun Tzu flopped. Even Mao Zedong’s dictum failed it: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” Manila harassed, attacked, pursued; Beijing retreated.
China’s Embassy was reduced to issuing two statements. In the first statement, they lied that the puny Filipino wooden outrigger crossed the path of the 110-meter-long steel CCG gunboat. That didn’t wash with archipelagic Filipinos, of course. They’re used to sailing small craft, which they know must steer clear of steel ferries or even their wakes.
The Embassy added that the Filipino boats had trespassed Chinese territory. “Nǐ hǎo shǎ!” Filipino media chorused. Under international law, only a permanently surfaced sea feature can be deemed territory and thus warrant 12-mile surrounding territorial water. Not Ayungin which surfaces only in low tide.
Still, Ayungin is within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (the WPS) and 700 miles away from China’s closest island Hainan. Therefore it cannot be Chinese territory.
Lastly, the Embassy claimed that the CCG and Chinese maritime trawler had exercised caution and restraint. Videos show the opposite.
The second statement dwelt on Beijing’s concoctions of four supposed Manila promises to stop sea provocations, making dangerous moves, slandering China, and tow away BRP Sierra Madre. Yet it cannot name which Filipino traitor, if any, vowed those.
A good communist must be a propagandist, Mao commanded. The Chinese Embassy’s propaganda is stale. Even its agents in Philippine business, government, academe, and media cringed to mouth its line.
The ramming highlighted China’s notoriety. Japan, followed by South Korea and France instantly denounced China’s incursion in Philippine maritime jurisdiction. They warned it against breaching Freedom of Navigation.
America was sharper, calling Beijing’s actions “dangerous and unlawful”: “By conducting dangerous maneuvers that caused collisions with Philippine resupply and Coast Guard ships, the People’s Republic of China Coast Guard and maritime militia violated international law by intentionally interfering with the Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.
“China’s conduct jeopardized Filipino crew members’ safety and impeded critically needed supplies from reaching service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre. Obstructing supply lines to this long standing outpost and interfering with lawful Philippine maritime operations undermines regional stability.”
Previous Chinese harassment of Ayungin resupplies drew rebukes from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, India, Germany, and the European Union. China’s aggression has scared small countries from trusting Beijing’s communist overlords.
Beijing cut its nose to spite its face. It broke Sun Tzu’s tenet to “know the enemy and know yourself in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LICAS News.