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.


“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),” (Beijing-based internet company providing information on diverse aspects of contemporary Chinese affairs), 5 January 2024.

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.


[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.

[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.

[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.

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,,_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,, 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, 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.


“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),” (Chinese Communist Party online news website presenting pro-government perspectives), 28 September 2023.

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.)” (Chinese social media platform run by the Tencent technology company), 5 October 2023.

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.


[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.

[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.

[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, See also ANI News, “Deadly collision caught on cam! China coast guard hits Philippines supply boat in South China Sea,” 24 October 2023.

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
Attribution: CC x 2.0

Chinese and Vietnamese Leaders Meet Over Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong (left) in Beijing.

“Regarding issues at sea, the two leaders exchanged sincere and frank opinions in depth, emphasizing the need to better control and actively resolve disagreements at sea, maintaining peace and stability in the Sea. East and Region.”

The waters surrounding the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea are paramount to the interests of the surrounding states due to the potential energy reserves, geo-strategic locations, and fishing resources.  Although China maintains de facto control over the Paracel Islands, Vietnam also has laid claim to them, leading to increasing tensions. On 12 December 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, Nguyen Phu Trong to ease these tensions. According to the first excerpted articles from the Vietnamese news media aggregator Báo Mới, General Secretary Trong requested both sides respect each other’s legitimate interests and resolve disputes by peaceful means per international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As per the second excerpted article from the military-focused China Military Network[i], it was noted that China and Vietnam were at a “critical stage of reform and development.” The article also highlighted the nearly three dozen agreements signed during the visit as proof of improving relations between the two countries. However, the December Xi-Trong meeting is set against the backdrop of longstanding tension between China and Vietnam stemming from both countries’ claims of sovereignty over both the Paracel and Spratly Island in the South China Sea. China has codified its claims across the region with its nine-dash line maritime policy, a visual representation of China’s claims that appears on some official and comparative maps of disputed claims in the region, but which has been refuted by international maritime law.[ii] While China would like to settle tensions with Vietnam, it is unlikely that the recent meeting between Xi and Trong, and subsequent bilateral agreements, would dissuade Vietnam from its current claims of  Vietnamese features in the South China Sea.[iii]


“Việt Nam và Trung Quốc nhất trí xây dựng Cộng đồng chia sẻ tương lai (Vietnam and China agreed to build a Community of Shared Future),” Báo Mới (Hanoi-based Vietnamese news aggregator), 12 December 2023. https://baomoi-com/ viet-nam-va-trung-quoc-nhat-tri-xay-dung-cong-dong-chia-se-tuong-lai-c47792276.epi   

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong emphasized that in the context of complex international and regional developments, it is important that countries jointly implement policies of peace, cooperation, and development, and comply with the law. Internationally respecting each other’s equality and legitimate interests.

“志同道合携手行,命运与共创未来中共中央政治局委员、外交部长王毅谈习近平总书记、国家主席对越南国事访问 (Like-minded people join hands to create a shared future – Wang Yi, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister, talks about General Secretary Xi Jinping and President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Vietnam),” China Military Network (Chinese military news focused media aggregator), 14 December 2023. 

Currently, both China and Vietnam are at a critical stage of reform and development. Strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation has both inherent advantages and practical needs. During this visit, the two sides signed more than 30 cooperation agreements, covering all aspects of the “Belt and Road”, development cooperation, digital economy, green development, transportation, inspection and quarantine, defense and law enforcement security cooperation, maritime cooperation, etc., expanding the breadth of China-Vietnam relations.


[i] China Military Network can also be translated “Chinese military web.” The page banner includes links to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, military newspapers, and topical sites like “Strategy,” and Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry press briefings. The URL is significant because 81 represents 1 August 1927, the founding date for the Red Army.

[ii] In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague had ruled China’s nine-dash line maritime policy to be illegitimate. China had disregarded the Court’s ruling, and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and has continued to aggressively enforce its nine-dash line maritime policy. For a U.S. government’s perspective of the Arbitration’s ruling see: “South China Sea Arbitration Ruling: What Happened and What’s Next?,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 12 July 2016. Brief, South China Sea Arbitration Ruling What Happened and What%27s Next071216.pdf

[iii] For additional context, see: Jacob Zenn, “Vietnam Taking Diplomatic Approach to Spratly Islands Territorial Disputes,” OE Watch, 08-2023.; For a comparison of China’s claims and recent confrontations with the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands, OE Watch, 08-2023.

Image Information:

Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong (left) in Beijing.
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0

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, 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 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]


“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)” (Vietnamese publication covering hot topics in domestic and international affairs concerning Vietnam), 11 June 2023.

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)” Vietnamese daily newspaper), 8 June 2023. 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.”


[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,; 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 Force
Attribution: (CC x 2.0)

Vietnam Defense Exhibition Shows Diversified International Partnerships To Balance Against China

Vietnam claims Paracel and Spratly islands.

Vietnam claims Paracel and Spratly islands.

“An exhibition was officially opened for international partners and domestic citizens to observe the capacity, technological progress, and weapons and equipment manufactured by Vietnam.”

According to the first excerpted 6 April article from Vietnam’s national television broadcaster, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesperson denounced the National Natural Science Organization of China’s plans to conduct surveys in 33 areas of the South China Sea. Among the archipelagos in the South China Sea are the Spratly Islands (Truong Sa), which are claimed and controlled by Vietnam but are also claimed by China. Vietnam considers the Chinese survey’s encompassing of the Spratly Islands as an act of aggression. One way Vietnam has responded to China’s more aggressive military posture in the South China Sea, such as through surveying, is by branching out to multiple international actors to balance against China, if not also China’s ally, Russia. This was demonstrated at the 2022 International Defense Exhibition in Hanoi last December.[i] As the second excerpted article on the government-funded Voice of Vietnam website noted, the exhibition was intended to highlight Vietnam’s military modernization and diversified international partners.[ii] While Russian artillery systems, which Vietnam has historically acquired for its army, were on display alongside Vietnamese ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, there were also weapons from companies of Western countries and their partners, such as the United States, Czechia, Israel, and India. China was not among the nearly 70 countries that attended. The weapons at the exhibition are among those that Vietnam could acquire and employ during any future confrontation without relying on Chinese allies.[iii]


“Việt Nam phản đối việc Trung Quốc công bố khu vực khảo sát bao trùm Trường Sa (Vietnam opposes China’s announcement of conducting a survey area throughout the Spratly Islands),” (official website of the Voice of Vietnam radio broadcaster), 6 April 2023.

Regarding the information that the National Natural Science Organization of China announced 33 survey areas, including some lines covering the Truong Sa archipelago in Vietnam’s waters, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pham Thu Hang at the press conference on April 6 stated, As it has repeatedly affirmed, Vietnam has a full legal basis and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes based on international law.

“Người dân Hà Nội háo hức với Triển lãm quốc phòng quốc tế 2022 (Hanoians are enthusiastic about the 2022 International Defense Exhibition),” (Vietnamese government’s national television broadcaster), 8 December 2022.

On the morning of December 8, an exhibition was officially opened for international partners and domestic citizens to observe the capacity, technological progress, and weapons and equipment manufactured by Vietnam…. Many Vietnamese people witnessed the modern weapons of the army for the first time


[i] Among the purposes of the exhibition was to “diversify defense equipment procurement sources” and to “introduce Vietnam’s defense capabilities and Vietnamese-made weapons” to the international community. Although Russia has historically been Vietnam’s main weapons supplier, the presence of Western countries at the exhibition indicates Vietnam’s interest in gradually diversifying by engaging in weapons transfers with them. See: “Vietnam hosts its first international defense expo.”, 8 December 2022.

[ii] Unlike Truong Sa, the Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands) have been under Chinese control since the Chinese navy expelled the South Vietnamese navy from the islands in 1974. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has inherited the South Vietnamese claims over the islands since 1975, as well as concerns about China attempting to occupy Truong Sa in the future.

[iii] After 1991, Vietnam sought to “multilateralize and diversify” its foreign ties by normalizing its relations with China and all Southeast Asian states and becoming a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). By 2001, Vietnam and Russia revived bilateral relations in the form of a strategic partnership and Vietnam and the United States signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement. Vietnam’s broader goal was to insulate the country from Sino-U.S. competition or other major power rivalries and protect its independence and self-reliance. See Carlyle A. Thayer (2017), “Vietnam’s Foreign Policy in an Era of Rising Sino-US Competition and Increasing Domestic Political Influence,” Asian Security, 13:3, 183-199.

Image Information:

Image: Vietnam claims Paracel and Spratly islands.
Source: Tonbi Ko
Attribution: CC x 3.0

Philippine Interest in Trilateral Security Pact With United States and Japan Possibly Increasing

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force butai 01 – 04.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force butai 01 – 04.

“Beijing is determined to change the status quo in the South China Sea by continuing to harass neighboring ‘small’ countries.”

In March 2023, the nationalist Japan Times published the excerpted article written by Kuni Miyake, the research director for foreign and national security affairs at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo. Miyake argues the Philippines has growing concerns about Chinese policies in the South China Sea, including the building of military outposts on atolls claimed by the Philippines.[i] Therefore, the Philippines is more likely than in previous decades to be open to a trilateral partnership with Japan and the United States.

Miyake acknowledges that Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte has signed economic agreements with Beijing related to issues ranging from oil and gas exploration to fishing rights. However, provocative actions by the Chinese navy, including targeting a Philippine Coast Guard ship with a laser device in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and China’s harassing other smaller Southeast Asian countries, has contributed to momentum building in the Philippines government for closer security partnerships with Japan and the United States. In contrast to Beijing, Miyake argues that Japan must stress to the Philippine government the important geopolitical role of the Philippines in their bilateral relations. Miyake’s article comes after the Philippines began contemplating a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with Japan.[ii] For example, the second excerpted article in the Philippine publication Inquirer from November 2022 quoted the country’s Senate President, Juan Miguel Zubiri, who supports a VFA. Another senator stated a VFA would not only be beneficial to the Philippines because of the training Japan can provide, but also because the VFA would increase mutual preparedness between Japan and the Philippines for natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies.


Kuni Miyake, “The geopolitical trajectory of the Philippines is changing,” (English-language daily with a nationalistic editorial perspective), 8 March 2023.

Returning to Manila this time, I was struck by a series of developments: a growing anxiety toward China among the populace, dramatic improvement in U.S.-Philippine relations and growing momentum to advance trilateral-security cooperation between Japan, the Philippines and the United States, which until a few years ago would have been only a dream.

In January of this year, Marcos was invited to China as a state guest and signed 14 agreements as the Chinese business community expressed intentions to invest $22.8 billion in the Philippines. Nevertheless, Beijing is determined to change the status quo in the South China Sea by continuing to harass neighboring “small” countries. In February this year, for example, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel blocked the path of a Philippine Coast Guard ship within the island nation’s exclusive economic zone while another Chinese vessel targeted a Philippine ship with a laser device…. What I found most fascinating in Manila was the idea that security cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and the Philippines is gaining momentum these days.

“Senators push for VFA with Japan,” (popular pro-democracy newspaper in the Philippines), 14 November 2022.

Senators are keen to endorse a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with erstwhile invader Japan, making it only the third nation with which the country has such an extraordinary agreement, next to the United States and Australia. “I’m sure we can muster enough support in the Senate for a visiting forces agreement with Japan. They’re good partners,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said during the Senate plenary’s marathon budget deliberations on Thursday night.

Forging a VFA with Japan would not only be helpful in joint training but also during natural disasters, said Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.This is not just military training but it will also include disaster response and disaster risk reduction.”

China’s force buildup in the region and opportunities for trilateral coordination and cooperation will be among the key topics on the agenda.


[i] One of the first significant South China Sea confrontations between China and the Philippines occurred with China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012. At the time, the Philippines believed an agreement existed whereby both countries would withdraw naval patrols from the shoal as typhoon season approached. However, when Philippine ships left the shoal, China placed a barrier across the entrance to the shoal and stationed coast guard boats there to chase away Philippine fishing boats. See: Mark Raymond and David A. Welch, “What’s Really Going On in the South China Sea?,” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, Vol. 42(2), 214-239, August 2022.

[ii] Since the rise of China in the 1990s, Philippine and Japanese political leaders and high-ranking defense officials have conducted goodwill visits and high-level dialogues, while Japan has consistently provided emergency relief assistance to the Philippines in the wake of earthquakes and typhoons. However, a VFA between the two countries would represent a significant elevation of the two countries’ bilateral ties. See: Renato Cruz De Castro, “Exploring a 21st-Century Japan-Philippine Security Relationship: Linking Two Spokes Together?,” Asian Survey Vol. 49 (4, 691-715), 2009.

Image Information:

Image: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force butai01 – 04
Attribution: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, CC x 4.0