China Claims Philippine Navy Seeks External Intervention in South China Sea

Philippine Coast Guard


“China has firmly gained actual control of Second Thomas Shoal and its adjacent waters, but China and the Philippines are in a stalemate.”


On 5 January, an anonymous Chinese analyst published the accompanying excerpted Chinese-language article analyzing the ongoing clashes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. The article contends that Philippine warships were illegally resting on the Second Thomas Shoal.[i]. The author claims the Philippines was attempting to send repair materials to those ships, escalating tensions with China. Further, the tensions provided excuses for external forces (specifically the United States and Japan) to intervene on the Philippine side. The author also suggests that the Philippine strategy was to benefit from foreign assistance to establish full control of the Second Thomas Shoal. The author’s outlook mimics the Chinese government’s official position. To that end, the author asserts that China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, to include the Second Thomas Shoal.[ii] While the author acknowledges that China and the Philippines are in a stalemate over control of the shoal, the author claims the Philippines will also try to provoke China into an action that would undermine its legitimate claims to the shoal. The author claims the Philippine strategy began with the new Marcos administration, which took office in June 2022.[iii] China contends the Philippine government should have removed the broken ships from the shoal instead of trying to repair them. In conclusion, the author insists that dialogue is the best way to manage differences in the South China Sea. However, as the author sees it, there appears to be little prospect for a resolution through dialogue due to the Marcos administration’s provocations.


Sources:

“非法“坐滩”军舰即将解体,菲律宾又想了个馊主意 (The illegal “beach-sitting” warships will soon be ruined, and the Philippines has another bad idea),” sohu.com (Beijing-based internet company providing information on diverse aspects of contemporary Chinese affairs), 5 January 2024. https://www.sohu.com/a/748698907_137871#google_vignette

In the past year, the Philippines has frequently provoked troubles in the South China Sea, and China has decisively counterattacked. In the end, the Philippines failed to obtain any benefits. However, the Philippines will obviously not surrender because its warships illegally on the Second Thomas Shoal beachside are about to be ruined. This is among the main reasons why the Philippines desperately breaks into the Second Thomas Shoal to transport repair materials. In addition, the Philippines intends to escalate tensions in the South China Sea and create excuses for external forces such as the United States and Japan to interfere in the situation in the South China Sea.


Notes:

[i] The Second Thomas Shoal is an atoll in the Spratly Island chain and has been a flashpoint between China and the Philippines, among their other broader disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippines has deployed marines to a broken down navy ship, which was grounded on the shoal in 1999 while attempting to protect Philippine maritime claims. In 2013, China began to increase its presence near the shoal to weaken the Philippines’ control of it. China also claims that former Philippines president, Joseph Estrada (1998-2001), had promised to remove the Philippine Navy ship, but the current Marcos government denies this. “China-Philippines Tensions in the South China Sea,” Congressional Research Service, In Focus, 13 December 2023. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12550/2

[ii] For additional information on the China-Philippines dispute over the Second Thomas Shoal, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands,” OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/china-and-philippines-spar-over-grounded-ship-in-spratly-islands/

[iii] In 2020 and 2021, the Duterte administration began to express concerns about Chinese island reclamation in the South China Sea. Since coming to power in 2022, geopolitical factors have moved the Marcos administration even closer to the United States and farther from China. One reason for this is China’s increasing efforts to terraform islands in the South China Sea, which enables China to assert a greater territorial presence in the sea. Another reason is that the Chinese “fishing militia” has amassed at Whitsun Reef, which demonstrates China’s intent to seize it from Philippine control. Alvina Cambria, “From Aquino to Marcos: political survival and Philippine foreign policy towards China,” China, Journal of Contemporary East Asia Studies, 6 November 2023. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24761028.2023.2281165


Image Information:

Image: A Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly obstructs the Philippine Coast Guard vessel Malabrigo as it provided support during a Philippine Navy operation near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, 30 June 2023.
Source: Philippine Coast Guard, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:June_30,_2023_PCG_CCG_encounter_1.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Chinese Media Defends PLA Navy in Maritime Dispute With the Philippines

People’s Liberation Army (Navy) frigate PLA(N) Yueyang (FF 575) [R1] steams in formation with 42 other ships and submarines during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.


“The Chinese Coast Guard will continue to protect its rights and conduct law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction and strongly defend national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”


China has multiple maritime disputes with neighboring countries in the South China Sea, but tensions have risen primarily with the Philippines since September. Chinese media, however, has defended and downplayed China’s actions, while placing blame for the increased tensions on the Philippines and its “external” allies, such as the U.S. For example, on 28 September, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) website, huanqiu.mil, published the excerpted Chinese-language article, which acknowledges rising tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The article notes a Chinese Coast Guard ship intercepted a Philippine Naval ship that, according to the article, illegally entered the area around Scarborough Shoal, which the CCP refers to as Huangyan Island.[i] In addition, according to the article, a Philippine diver removed a “floating barrier” placed by China southeast of the shoal. However, the article did not mention that the barrier’s purpose was to prevent Philippine fishermen from fishing in those waters. The Philippines claims the shoal is within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) while China seeks to access its fishing waters and other natural resources, such as petroleum and gas.

The article claimed the international media reported that regular military exercises the Philippines announced it would hold with the United States, Japan, and other partner navies, were in response to the increased tensions. Yet, the article held the CCP line that rejects any role for countries from outside the South China Sea region in resolving local maritime territorial disputes or defending the claims of adjacent South China Sea countries.[ii] The article further portrayed the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) actions as legal and reasonable and the Philippine Navy’s actions as selfish and based on psychological manipulation or deceit (niēzào shìshí).

Two weeks after the article’s publication, the second excerpted Chinese-language article on the popular social media news website, qq.com suggested that China would only engage in naval conflict with the Philippines if all other options had been exhausted. Further, it claimed any such conflict would only please the United States. Both articles, therefore, portrayed China as defensive and the Philippines or its external allies’ actions as contributing to the rise of tensions. These tensions rose to the fore on 22 October when Chinese and Philippine naval ships clashed.[iii] After the clash, the Chinese media continued to justify the PLAN as being in the right and the Philippines and its backers as the aggressors.


Sources:

“菲律宾宣布将与美日等国举行军演,外媒借机炒作南海紧张局势 (The Philippines announced that with the United States, Japan and other countries it will hold military exercises, foreign media exaggerated tensions in the South China Sea),” Huanqui.Mil.com (Chinese Communist Party online news website presenting pro-government perspectives), 28 September 2023. https://mil.huanqiu.com/article/4EivRbNVa0W

The Philippine navy issued a statement that it would conduct annual military exercises with the United States and other countries south of Luzon in the Philippines. Reports suggested this action came at a time when tensions between the Philippines and China are rising due to disputes in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard intercepted a Philippine official ship that illegally entered Huangyan Island.

Previously, the Philippine Coast Guard claimed to have dismantled the “floating barrier” placed by China in the southeastern waters of Scarborough Shoal. This action led to a warning from the Chinese government and required the Philippines not to cause provocations and cause trouble.

The Chinese Coast Guard will continue to protect its rights and conduct law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction and strongly defend national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. In addition, China has asserted many times previously that the South China Sea is the common homeland for regional countries and should not become a hunting ground for external powers.


“美国盼着菲律宾与中国开战?中菲不会在南海发生冲突原因有四 (Is the United States looking forward to a war between the Philippines and China? There are four reasons why China and the Philippines will not conflict in the South China Sea.)” QQ.com (Chinese social media platform run by the Tencent technology company), 5 October 2023. https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20231005A07M3600

Will the Philippines conflict with China in the South China Sea? I believe that this is a topic that everyone is very concerned about…. My country’s Coast Guard took restrained and rational measures such as warnings and monitoring, but did not take action to remove the illegal beachside vessel from the Philippines that was stationed on Renai Reef. Therefore, China will not easily use force against the Philippines until the last minute.When the time comes, China will definitely seize the opportunity to teach the Philippines a lesson…. However, judging from the actual situation, it seems that we are not ready for a conflict with the Philippines. Therefore, China’s best choice at the moment is to exercise restraint and calm down and avoid conflict with the Philippines.


Notes:

[i] The Philippines asserts claims to Scarborough Shoal as well as around 50 other features in the Spratly Islands, which are known in the Philippines as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). According to a Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) report, the evidence in favor of the Philippine claims compared to the Chinese claims “is hardly a legal ‘slam dunk,’ but the evidence supporting Philippine sovereignty appears stronger. The fact that [Scarborough Shoal] is 400 nautical miles closer to the Philippines than to China and well within the Philippine EEZ weighs in on this determination.” See: Mark E. Rosen, “A CNA Occasional Paper Philippine Claims in the South China Sea: A Legal Analysis,” August 2014. https://www.cna.org/archive/CNA_Files/pdf/iop-2014-u-008435.pdf

[ii] For more on China-Philippine tension in the South China Sea, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship In Spratly Islands, OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/china-and-philippines-spar-over-grounded-ship-in-spratly-islands/

[iii] On 22 October, a Philippines boat sending supplies to forces at the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands was disrupted by a Chinese “blocking maneuver,” which the Chinese Coast Guard claimed was a “slight collision” from a Chinese ship into a Philippine boat that was transporting “illegal construction materials” to a Philippine warship. See: Nikkei Asia, “China and Philippines trade accusations over latest clash at sea,” 22 October 2023,https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/South-China-Sea/China-and-Philippines-trade-accusations-over-latest-clash-at-sea. See also ANI News, “Deadly collision caught on cam! China coast guard hits Philippines supply boat in South China Sea,” 24 October 2023. youtube.com/watch?v=EDXzs7To7Xc


Image Information:

Image: People’s Liberation Army (Navy) frigate PLA(N) Yueyang (FF 575) [R1] steams in formation with 42 other ships and submarines during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.
Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:People%27s_Liberation_Army_(Navy)_frigate_PLA(N)_Yueyang_(FF_575)_steams_in_formation_with_42_other_ships_and_submarines_during_Rim_of_the_Pacific_(RIMPAC)_Exercise_2014.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Vietnam Taking Diplomatic Approach to Spratly Islands Territorial Disputes

Vietnam People’s Navy honor guard at ASEAN defense ministers meeting in 2010.


“The presentations examined many aspects of the East Sea and the issue of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the sea and islands from historical, cultural, political, and legal perspectives.”


In June, the Vietnamese Embassy in France hosted a conference in Paris to reaffirm Vietnamese sovereignty of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. As reported in the Vietnamese-language publication baotintuc.com, the conference was attended by the Vietnamese Ambassador to France, European scholars on Vietnam, and Vietnamese citizens in Europe who had previously visited the Spratly Islands.[i] Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei each lay claim to territory in the island chain.[ii] Conference attendees examined the historical, cultural, political, and legal perspectives on the Spratly Islands, and concluded with a consensus for Vietnam to avoid using force to regain sovereignty over the islands. The scholars stated that historical evidence showed Vietnam had occupied the islands since at least 300 years ago. They urged Vietnam to use diplomacy and negotiations as well as displays of solidarity with allied nations to push forward their territorial claims.[iii] The conference attendees further emphasized the need not just for older Vietnamese to support the Vietnamese Navy and to donate money to the cause, but also for Vietnamese youth and the international Vietnamese community to stand beside Vietnam. Consistent with this diplomatic approach to the Spratly Islands, Vietnam has also avoided direct naval confrontations in the South China Sea.[iv] For example, as the second excerpted Vietnamese-language article from tienphong.com notes, Taiwan conducted live-fire military training drills near the islands. Vietnam responded by announcing its opposition to the drills and demanded that they be canceled, stating that Taiwan was threatening peace in the South China Sea. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry also asserted it had legal and historical justification to claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.[CR1]


Sources:

“Biển Đông và chủ quyền biển đảo Việt Nam dưới góc nhìn của các học giả châu Âu (East Sea and Vietnam’s sovereignty over the sea and islands from the perspective of European scholars)” baotintuc.vn (Vietnamese publication covering hot topics in domestic and international affairs concerning Vietnam), 11 June 2023. https://baotintuc.vn/thoi-su/bien-dong-va-chu-quyen-bien-dao-viet-nam-duoi-goc-nhin-cua-cac-hoc-gia-chau-au-20230611102242092.htm

On June 10, in Paris, France, a scientific conference with the theme “East Sea and Vietnam’s sovereignty issues” took place with the participation of a large number of Vietnamese scholars and admirers of the sea and islands. On this occasion, a meeting between overseas Vietnamese who had visited the Spratlys was held together with an exhibition of photos and artifacts about this archipelago. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Vietnamese Ambassador to France, Dinh Toan Thang, highly appreciated the efforts of individuals and associations contributing to organizing the workshop. 

The situation in the East Sea, and solutions to handle disputes and options for marine economic development, were mentioned by the speakers. Mr. Patrice Jorland, professor of History and former president of the France-Vietnam Friendship Association, stated that, according to the law of the sea and international law, Vietnam has a large exclusive economic zone. Mr. Jorland claimed Vietnam has sovereignty in the East Sea. Regarding sovereignty over Truong Sa and Hoang Sa, he said that historical evidence shows that Vietnam has asserted sovereignty over these two archipelagoes, especially Hoang Sa, since the late 18th century, under the Nguyen Dynasty.

As for Ms. Malgorzata Pietrasiak, a professor at the University of Lodz in Poland, an expert on Vietnam, she highly respected Vietnam’s method of handling issues at sea, which she calls “hedging.” According to her, this is a wise, flexible, and peaceful strategy devoid of tension, but also is not giving in…. With 14 presentations, the workshop contributed to bringing to the public perspectives and initiatives for mutual building and developing on the basis of respecting each other’s sovereignty and territory.


“Việt Nam phản đối Đài Loan tập trận ở Trường Sa (Vietnam opposes Taiwanese drills in Truong Sa)” tienphong.vn(Government-owned Vietnamese daily newspaper), 8 June 2023. https://tienphong.vn/viet-nam-phan-doi-dai-loan-tap-tran-o-truong-sa-post1541256.tpoOn June 7, Taiwan conducted a live-fire drill in the waters around Ba Binh in the Spratly archipelago of Vietnam. Vietnam strongly opposes this and demands that Taiwan cancel illegal activities. On June 8, in response to a reporter’s question about Vietnam’s response to this activity, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Pham Thu Hang stated “Vietnam has a full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Truong Sa archipelago…. Therefore, Taiwan holding a live-fire drill in the waters around Ba Binh in the Spratly archipelago of Vietnam is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over this archipelago and threatens peace, stability, safety, and maritime security, while creating tensions and complicating the situation in the East Sea.”


Notes:

[i] Although the South China Sea is the name most associated with the body of water shared by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, Vietnam refers to this body of water as the East Sea. A similar naming dispute occurs between South Korea, North Korea, and Japan. Japan refers to the body of water separating itself from the Korean Peninsula as the Sea of Japan, whereas North Korea refers to it as the Korea East Sea while South Korea refers to it simply as the East Sea. The naming of these bodies of water is entangled in the struggle for territory and sovereignty over the regions in question. Regarding Korea and Japan, U.S. officials have historically referred to the waterway as the Sea of Japan, at times raising the ire of South Korean leaders.

[ii] China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim sovereignty over the entirety of the Spratly Islands. The Philippines, in contrast, only claims sovereignty over several features in the Kalayaan Island Group, while Malaysia also claims only some features and Brunei claims one reef. In terms of control, Vietnam occupies 26 features in the Spratly Islands, while the Philippines occupies nine, China occupies seven, Malaysia occupies five, and Taiwan occupies one. The contesting parties have officially sought to settle the dispute through bilateral agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but all efforts have ended without a permanent solution. See Hasan, Monjur and Jian, He, “Spratly Islands Dispute in the South China Sea: Potential Solutions,” Journal of East Asia and International Law, 2019, 12(1), pp. 145-168.

[iii] Vietnam claims its occupation of the Spratly Islands can be traced to the Nguyen lords, who from the 1600s annually sailed to the Bai Cat Vang island groups to retrieve shipwrecked goods and remained in the archipelago for up to six months. During the reign of the Nguyen emperors from the early 1800s, there is documentation that identified the Truong Sa archipelago from the Hoang Sa Islands in the Spratly Islands as Vietnamese possessions. It was not until the French protectorate was established over Vietnam in 1884 that sovereignty over the islands became contested. Kelly, Todd C., “Vietnamese Claims to the Truong Sa Archipelago,” Explorations in Southeast Asian Studies, Fall 1999, 3, pp. 1-21.

[iv] For a short video documentary on tensions in the South China Sea, see: South China Sea, Chinaboundaries.com. https://chinaboundaries.com/map/south-china-sea/; and Eric Hyer, Pragmatic Dragon: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlements, UBC Press (2015), Chapter 12 (pages 236-262).


Image Information:

Image: Vietnam People’s Navy honor guard at ASEAN defense ministers meeting in 2010.
Source: Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Forcehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vietnam_People%27s_Navy_honor_guard_at_ASEAN_defense_ministers_meeting_2010-10-12_1.jpg
Attribution: (CC x 2.0)


China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands

Map of South China Sea featuring the Spratly Island group


“[China] deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs. Its coastguard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.”


China is stepping up enforcement of its claims in the South China Sea due, in part, to its expanding chain of naval bases. There were a pair of confrontations between Chinese and Philippine navies in the South China Sea in August.[i] The dispute centered on the resupply of the BRP Sierra Madre, a WWII-era Philippine ship purposely run aground in 1999, on the Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Island group. The aging and decrepit vessel has served as a Philippine military base, tethered to the shoal that both the Philippines and China each declare their own.

On 5 August, the Chinese Coast Guard blocked Philippine Coast Guard ships from escorting chartered supply boats sent to resupply the Sierra Madre, according to the excerpted article from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. Philippine officials protested the Chinese actions, noting that the operation was a normal resupply mission. China claimed the Philippine operation also sought to deliver construction materials to repair the aging Sierra Madre—extending the life of the floating Philippine base—in defiance of Chinese demands that the Sierra Madre be towed off the shoal on which it is grounded.

The situation escalated three days later when, on 8 August, China criticized the Philippines for failing to “keep its commitment to tow away the warship that was ‘illegally stranded’ on China’s Ren’ai Reef and attempting to reinforce it for permanent occupation of the reef” as reported by the government-run media outlet China Daily. Philippine officials deny there was ever any commitment to remove the Sierra Madre and vowed to maintain the stranded vessel.[ii] Finally, on 22 August, Philippine supply boats ran the Chinese blockade to resupply the Philippine marines stationed on the Sierra Madre, according to the China Daily article. The two-week saga highlights the fact that the operational environment in the South China Sea has tipped in China’s favor.[iii] Many Chinese naval bases in the South China Sea are now operational negating the need for People’s Liberation Army-Navy vessels and maritime militia to sail from Hainan Island or other mainland naval bases. The chain of Chinese naval bases in the South China Sea allows China faster response times and more loiter time in contested waters, an advantage previously held by the other claimants’ navies that reside much closer to the contested region.[iv]


Sources:

“South China Sea: Philippines says resupply mission reaches remote outpost, China firmly opposed,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong bases Chinese media outlet), 22 August 2023. https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3231910/south-china-sea-philippines-says-resupply-mission-reaches-remote-outpost-china-firmly-opposed?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cm&utm_campaign=enlz-today_international&utm_content=20230822&tpcc=enlz-today_international&UUID=200d3857-7b09-402a-bc24-cdd797d79a18&next_article_id=3231923&article_id_list=3231856,3231902,3231857,3231912,3231909,3231884,3231916,3231897&tc=30&CMCampaignID=b607b9fc1b0ca5281837846f6ad244ac

The Philippines said a resupply mission had reached a remote outpost in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, despite attempts by Chinese vessels to “block” the boats carrying provisions for Filipino marines.

Two Philippine Coastguard boats escorted two supply vessels to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where a handful of troops are stationed on a crumbling navy ship.

They arrived just over two weeks after China Coastguard ships blocked and fired water cannon at a resupply mission to the tiny garrison that prevented one of the boats from delivering its cargo.

“The routine follow-on Rotation and Resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre was successfully conducted today,” the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

Second Thomas Shoal is about 200kmfrom the Western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometres from China’s nearest major land mass, Hainan island.

The water cannoning on August 5 fanned tensions between the countries, which have a long history of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

It deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs. Its coastguard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.


“China warns Philippine ships for illegally entering waters in S. China Sea,” China Daily (Chinese government owned news organization), 22 August 2023. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202308/22/WS64e47c43a31035260b81d962.html

Liu Dejun, spokesman for the China Coast Guard, said in a statement that the four Philippine vessels were warned by the China Coast Guard, which effectively regulated them in accordance with law.

At the same time, regarding the fact that the Philippine ships did not carry illegal building materials for large-scale reinforcement, the Chinese side made “temporary special arrangements” for the Philippine side to transport food and other necessary daily supplies to the “stranded” warship in Ren’ai Reef in a humanitarian spirit, he said.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, including the Ren’ai Reef,” said Liu in his statement.

“We firmly oppose the Philippines using the opportunity of transporting supplies to ship illegal building materials to the warship that ‘illegally stranded’ in the Ren’ai Reef,” said Liu.Liu added that Chinese Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with law.


Notes:

[i] For more on Chinese diplomatic strategy regarding disputes in the South China Sea, see: Dodge Billingsley, “Chinese Foreign Minister Calls on Resolved Land Border Disputes with Vietnam to Influence Pending Chinese-Vietnamese Maritime Disputes,” OE Watch, October 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/376080

[ii] The relationship between the Philippines and China is complicated as they are neighbors and have shared interests despite friction between the two countries regarding territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese officials and media frequently blame the United States for its points of conflict with the Philippines. For an example of this perspective, see the following opinion piece by the editorial board of the China Daily: “Manila should be part of solution not problem: China Daily, 17 August 2023. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202308/17/WS64de058da31035260b81cc04.html

[iii] Coincidently, the Philippines participated in a multination training exercise the same week focused on possible threat scenarios it could face in the South China Sea featuring an air assault with Australian forces and an “amphibious landing” exercise with both Australian and U.S. Marines, see: “Marcos pushes joint drills with neighbors,” The Manila Times, 28 August 2023. https://www.manilatimes.net/2023/08/26/news/marcos-pushes-joint-drills-with-neighbors/1906954; Western press coverage on the joint training exercise with the U.S. Marines refer to the training differently, see: “120 Marines Back Drill Retaking an Island Along the South China Sea,” Marine Corps Times, 25 August 2023. https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/flashpoints/2023/08/25/120-marines-back-drill-retaking-an-island-along-the-south-china-sea/?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mil-ebb&SToverlay=342f5a58-c37b-4142-b049-1f737335b507

[iv] On 28 August, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a new version of its national map, which it has regularly done since at least 2006 in an effort to “eliminate ‘problem maps.’” The map drew swift rebuke from many countries, including the Philippines. See: “China’s New Map Draws Outrage From Neighbors,” The China Project, 31 August 2023. https://thechinaproject.com/2023/08/31/chinas-new-map-draws-outrage-from-its-neighbors/?utm_campaign=Thu, Aug 31, 2023 5%3A18 PM – The neighbors hate China’s new map&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Mailjet; For the notice of map release see: “2023年版标准地图正式发布 (The 2023 Version of the Standard Map is Officially Released),” Ministry of Natural Resources of the People’s Republic of China, https://www.mnr.gov.cn/dt/ywbb/202308/t20230829_2798404.html


Image Information:

Image: Map of South China Sea featuring the Spratly Island group
Source: Dodge Billingsley, Combat Films and Research, Inc.
Attribution: By permission of Combat Films and Research, Inc.


China Now Claims To Have World’s Top Destroyer Force

The Nanchang, China’s first launched Type 055 destroyer.

The Nanchang, China’s first launched Type 055 destroyer.


“Now, as the four Type 055 destroyers of the first Destroyer Detachment of the PLA Navy are fully operational, they will provide more solid support for the Chinese Navy to penetrate the island chains and cruise the ocean.”


According to the Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing news source Ta Kung Pao, the Chinese Navy recently saw its sixth Type 055[GRLCUT(1]  stealth-guided missile destroyer, “Wuxi,” achieve “total combat capability.” The article also claims that by having the Type 055 stealth guided-missile destroyers now fully combat ready, “the detachment has become the world’s top destroyer force.” The second article excerpt, published in the Chinese state-run Global Times, explains that the Wuxi recently participated in a rigorous three-day trial in the Yellow Sea, where it conducted comprehensive air defense, missile defense, sea attack, and anti-submarine operations in a complex electromagnetic environment. The tests, focusing on “future missions, environments, and opponents,” incorporated surface ships, submarines, fighters, and other forces to produce multiple air, underwater, and surface threats that put to test the Wuxi’s integrated combat capability.

According to Ta Kung Pao, Type 055 destroyers are equipped with China’s most advanced air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons. They have “strong information perception, command and coordination, air defense and anti-missile, sea-to-sea and sea-to-land strike capabilities” and possess strong anti-ship capabilities that can “crush any opponent.” Previous reporting claimed that a dual-band radar system gives the Type 055 anti-stealth and anti-satellite capabilities in low-Earth orbit providing “Chinese forces a key edge over their opponents in modern warfare.”[i]

The Type 055 destroyer’s primary mission is expected to be as an aircraft carrier escort: to provide a wider detection range and early warning capability, stronger firepower, and overall increased protection for the aircraft carrier. The Type 055 also has the capacity to serve as a command ship and is expected to help the Chinese navy break through the island chains[ii] and ultimately achieve a blue-water capability. There are currently eight operational Type 055 destroyers. The first four have been assigned to the First Destroyer Detachment in the North Sea Fleet, while the next four have been assigned to the Ninth Destroyer Detachment in the South China Fleet. The North Sea Fleet safeguards the country’s northern maritime borders from the Bohai and Yellow Seas. According to Ta Kung Pao, China is currently constructing its ninth Type 055 destroyer, which is expected to be assigned to the East Sea Fleet.


Sources:

“055型四剑合璧 护航母破岛链 (Four Type 055 Destroyers Escort the Aircraft Carrier Liaoning to Break Through the Island Chains), Ta Kung Pao (Hong Kong-based, pro-Beijing news source), 3 April 2023, http://www.takungpao.com/news/232108/2023/0403/835819.html

Wuxi, the Chinese Navy’s sixth Type 055 stealth guided-missile destroyer, has recently passed a full-course test, officially achieving total combat capability. So far, all four 10,000 ton-class destroyers of the first destroyer detachment under the North Sea Fleet (NSF) have achieved full combat capability, and the detachment has become the world’s top destroyer force.

The 13,000-ton Type 055 guided missile destroyer has been praised by U.S. media as the world’s second most powerful guided missile destroyer after the U.S. Zumwalt-class. From January 2020, when Nanchang, the first Type 055 destroyer, came into service, to February 2023, when Xianyang joined the navy, eight 10,000 ton-class destroyers of this type have sailed across our country’s vast seas in a short period of three years. …As a result, the Type 055 destroyers have more robust comprehensive capabilities.

Destroyers are the indispensable main ships in the surface combat system. The Type 055 10,000-ton large destroyers are equipped with the Chinese Navy’s most advanced air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, with strong information perception, command and coordination, air defense and anti-missile, sea-to-sea and sea-to-land strike capabilities. In particular, equipped with the hypersonic anti-ship YJ-21 missile, the 055 large destroyers has the anti-ship ability to crush any opponent. The formation of several large destroyers of this type also enables the PLA Navy to adopt more flexible and diversified methods of warfare.

Now, as the four Type 055 destroyers of the first Destroyer Detachment of the PLA Navy are fully operational, they will provide more solid support for the Chinese Navy to penetrate the island chains and cruise the ocean.”


Liu Xuanzun, “PLA Navy’s Type 055 large destroyer Wuxi achieves operational capability, ‘boosting North Sea Fleet’s far sea capabilities’,” Global Times (Chinese state-run news outlet), 26 March 2023. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202303/1287983.shtml

Organized by a vessel training center affiliated with the PLA Northern Theater Command Navy, the Type 055 large destroyer Wuxi recently went through a three-day full-course acceptance test in the Yellow Sea over training subjects including comprehensive air defense, missile defense, sea attack and anti-submarine actions in a complex electromagnetic environment, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Saturday.The vessel training center dispatched other forces including surface vessels, submarines and fighter jets to confront or support the Wuxi during the test, so the Wuxi could display its capabilities in dealing with all kinds of emergencies under multiple surface, underwater and air threats, CCTV reported.


Notes:

[i] For more information see: Liu Xuanzun, “China’s Type 055 Destroyer has Anti-Stealth, Anti-Satellite Capabilities: Report,” Global Times, 11 October 2020. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202010/1203103.shtml

[ii] The island chain strategy was originally conceptualized in 1951 by the West to contain the Soviet Union and China by surrounding them with naval bases in the West Pacific to project power and restrict access. There are currently three island chains in the Pacific Ocean. The First Island Chain begins at the Kuril Islands and runs through the Japanese Archipelago, Ryuku Islands, Taiwan, northwest Philippines, and ends around Borneo. The Second Island Chain consists of the Bonin Islands, Volcano Islands, Mariana Islands, western Caroline Islands, and Western New Guinea. The Third Island Chain begins at the Aleutian Islands and runs through the center of the Pacific Ocean through the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Island Chains became an area of focus in and around China. To break out of the island chains, among other things, China must have a “blue water” capable navy that can control the seas at wide ranges. See Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow, “Why Islands Still Matter in Asia: The Enduring Significance of the Pacific ‘Island Chains,” The National Interest, 5 February 2016, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-islands-still-matter-asia-15121; and Joe Fallon, “Breaking the Island Chains,”Defence Viewpoints from the UK Defence Forum, 10 February 2020, https://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/articles-and-analysis/breaking-the-island-chains


Images and Charts:

Chinese Type 055 Destroyers


Image Information:

Image: The Nanchang, China’s first launched Type 055 destroyer.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_055_destroyer#/media/File:PLANS_Nanchang_(DDG-101)_20210427.jpg
Attribution: Japan Ministry of Defense, Joint Staff Office; CC-BY 4.0

The Philippines Gaining Upper Hand Against Abu Sayyaf

2021-12-03 T4 Delivery 005.

2021-12-03 T4 Delivery 005.


“The terror groups may try to disrupt the peace and order during the election period but our preparedness will assure that they will not succeed…”


The Philippines government may be weakening Abu Sayyaf across the region.  According to Philippine daily sunstar.com, there was concern that Abu Sayyaf would seek to disrupt the elections after Philippine forces killed the group’s leader in Basilan only weeks earlier.  The military’s strategy to protect the elections from Abu Sayyaf involved closing off access points to the group’s main area of operations in Basilan and ordering troops to avoid political partisanship.  In addition, the army boosted its coordination with the Philippine National Police, the Commission on Elections, and other agencies to secure the elections.  Ultimately, the army deployed 69,000 soldiers to protect the elections, which were held successfully on 9 May.

A separate article in the Philippines’ largest English-language newspaper, Manila Bulletin, pointed to the surrender of an Abu Sayyaf bomb-maker as evidence that Abu Sayyaf’s ranks were being further depleted through the Philippines’ rehabilitation program for former Abu Sayyaf members.  The program, which allows local governments to work with surrendered repentant militants to reintegrate them into society, has seen some success since the Philippines stepped it up in recent years. Elsewhere, according to a recent Indonesian-language article in Hong Kong-based suara.com, a number of hostages escaped Abu Sayyaf in Indonesia in April.  Collectively, the articles imply that Abu Sayyaf’s military capabilities and negative impact appears to be waning in the face of determined government effort.


Source:

“Troops told to ready for poll worst-case scenario,” sunstar.com (Philippine daily), 20 April 2022. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1926909/zamboanga/local-news/troops-told-to-ready-for-poll-worst-case-scenario

Lieutenant General Alfredo Rosario Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), has ordered the troops in Basilan province to prepare for the worst-case scenario on election day. “The terror groups may try to disrupt the peace and order during the election period but our preparedness will assure that they will not succeed,” Rosario said. On March 25, Radzmil Jannatul alias Abu Khubayb, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan province, was killed in a clash with government troops in Sitio Center, Baiwas village, Sumisip, Basilan.

“Let us also sustain our good coordination with our partners from the Philippine National Police, the Commission on Elections, and other agencies to ensure an honest, orderly, and peaceful elections,” Rosario added. He reminded the JTF-Basilan troops to remain non-partisan at all times.

Source: “Sayyaf bomber surrenders in Zamboanga,” mb.com.ph (Philippines largest English language newspaper), 23 March 2022. https://mb.com.ph/2022/03/23/sayyaf-bomber-surrenders-in-zamboanga/

A suspected Abu Sayyaf member linked to several bombing and kidnapping incidents in Zamboanga and Basilan surrendered to authorities on Tuesday. Mursidin Husin, 39, a resident of Sitio Buahayan, Dita, Zamboanga City, surrendered to the police at PNP Camp General Eduardo Batalla, RT Lim Boulevard. Husin also turned over his .38 caliber revolver with ammunition. Husin, a follower of Jamiul Nasalun, an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader based in Zamboanga City, was allegedly involved in the 2013 bombing of a passenger bus in Zamboanga City and two other explosions in a Sangali cafeteria and in Basilan.

Source: “Kisah WNI 427 Hari jadi Tahanan Abu Sayyaf: Jarang Makan dan Takut Kena Bom (Story of Indonesian Citizen 427 Anniversary of Abu Sayyaf Prisoner: Rarely Eat and Fear of Bombs), suara.com (Hong Kong based Indonesian language bi-monthly newspaper), 5 April 2022. https://www.suara.com/news/2021/04/05/132923/kisah-wni-427-hari-jadi-tahanan-abu-sayyaf-jarang-makan-dan-takut-kena-bom

Arizal Caste Miran, one of the four victims of the Abu Sayyaf group hostage-takers in the Philippines, is now able to reunite with his family. Before returning to his family’s arms, Arizal and three other people were desperate to escape. They heard from a member of the Abu Sayyaf group that the hostages would be transferred to Tawi Island. While on their way in the morning, the ship they were traveling on capsized because from the waves. Instantly the four Indonesian citizens went to save themselves.


Image Information:

Image: 2021-12-03 T4 Delivery 005.
Source: Armed Forces of the Philippines
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2021-12-03_T4_Delivery_005.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Philippines Pursues Helicopter Deals with Russia, Turkey, and Poland

Marawi crisis UH-1H helicopter.

Marawi crisis UH-1H helicopter.


“The Philippines will proceed with the acquisition of 17 helicopters from Russia despite the latter’s conflict with Ukraine…”


The accompanying article from the Philippines-based gmanetwork.com looks at the Philippine government’s decision to purchase 17 military transport helicopters from Russia.  The article notes that the deal was made before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and, for the Philippines, the invasion does not affect the status of the deal.  The article asserts that the fulfillment of the deal would ultimately depend on Russia, which has been subject to sanctions since its war in Ukraine began.  The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has only expressed concern about, but not condemned, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In addition, on 9 March, Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah reported that the Philippines received six attack helicopters from a Turkish company.  Like the Russian helicopters, the helicopters from Turkey are intended to enhance the Philippines’ surface strike system.  They are capable of being deployed in the South China Sea, where the Philippines has territorial disputes with China.

Besides Russia and Turkey, gmanetwork.com reported on 22 February that the Philippines acquired 16 Black Hawk helicopters from Poland and is under contract for the purchase of 32 more.  The Philippines Air Force (PAF) noted that the helicopters would be used in humanitarian emergencies, as occurred when Typhoon Odette caused the deaths of more than 400 civilians in Visayas and Mindanao in December 2021.  In addition, the PAF may use the helicopters for aerial surveillance, including of pirates and terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf, which have been active in the south of the country, kidnapping both foreign tourists and Philippine citizens.


Source:

“Philippines keeps $12.7-billion chopper deal with Russia despite Ukraine conflict,” gmanetwork.com (largely centrist Philippine based media outlet), 10 March 2022. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/824565/philippines-keeps-12-7-billion-chopper-deal-with-russia-despite-ukraine-conflict/story/

The Philippines will proceed with the acquisition of 17 helicopters from Russia despite the latter’s conflict with Ukraine, the Department of National Defense (DND) said. In a statement, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the deal and initial payment for the project were made even before the start of the crisis in Ukraine.

Source: “Philippines receives 1st batch of Turkey-made attack helicopters,” dailysabah.com (Turkish pro-government news source), 9 March 2022. https://www.dailysabah.com/business/defense/philippines-receives-1st-batch-of-turkey-made-attack-helicopters

The Philippines has received the first batch of Turkey-made attack helicopters, the country’s air force announced. The country had ordered six helicopters designed and developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). The Philippines – which is buying the six choppers worth approximately $280 million (TL 4.1 billion) – is the first country abroad to use the ATAK.

Mariano said the Turkish-made attack helicopters are expected to enhance the “surface strike system” of the Air Force.

Source: “Philippines, Poland firm sign deal for 32 Black Hawk helicopters,” gmanetwork.com (largely centrist Philippine based media outlet), 22 February 2022. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/822693/philippines-poland-firm-sign-deal-for-32-black-hawk-helicopters/story/

The PAF said the set of helicopters would boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ capability for various operations such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. The defense chief added that the Black Hawk helicopters, as well as the country’s 15 Sikorsky 70i, were helpful during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in parts of Visayas and Mindanao.


Image Information:

Image: Marawi crisis UH-1H helicopter.
Source: Philippines Information Agency
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marawi_crisis_UH-1H_helicopter.jpg
Attribution: CC BY 2.0