China’s Aggressive South China Sea Tactics Prompt Manila’s Assertive Response

China’s actions in the South China Sea have led to increased assertiveness from Manila and neighbouring countries in the region. The South China Sea is a strategically important waterway through which a significant portion of global trade flows, making it a contentious and heavily disputed area. Several countries, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, have overlapping territorial claims in the region.

China has been increasingly assertive in pursuing its territorial claims, including the construction of artificial islands, military installations, and the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The Philippines has sought to bolster its military capabilities and has welcomed military assistance from allies like the United States and Japan.

The Philippines has also engaged in diplomatic efforts, including dialogue with other claimant states and regional organizations, to find a peaceful and rules-based resolution to the disputes. China’s actions in the South China Sea have raised international concerns about freedom of navigation, regional stability, and adherence to international law.

The Philippine Coast Guard has publicly cut loose a floating barrier installed by China near a disputed South China Sea lagoon, highlighting how Beijing’s actions are fueling forceful responses. The Philippines’ government understands the need to foster collective deterrence of denial and punishment with willing partners as an appropriate strategy to impose a red line for China. China has erected a 300-meter barrier near the entrance of Scarborough Shoal to prevent Philippine fishing vessels from entering the fertile area and disputed reef, which has been part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone since 2012.

The Philippines has removed floating barriers in the South China Sea, a move that has been a part of its efforts to defend its economic zone. The country has released a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing a diver using a knife to cut the barriers loose. This move could help rally support from the Philippine public and international allies. Manila’s efforts also include using larger naval vessels for resupply missions and conducting regular military exercises or maritime patrols with countries like the U.S. and Australia.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has pledged to defend its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights over the disputed “Huangyan Dao” reef. The Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration has warned about planned military exercises in parts of the South China Sea scheduled for September 28. The Philippine Coast Guard has urged fishermen to continue operating in the area, increasing patrols in Bajo de Masinloc and other areas where Filipino fishermen are. As territorial disputes between China and the Philippines continue, other South China Sea claimant states have also lodged complaints about Beijing’s continuous expansion.

Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry protested Beijing’s installation of two vessel identification stations in the Paracel Islands, while Southeast Asian states like Malaysia and Indonesia remain hesitant to confront China, while the Philippines has successfully resisted China’s grey zone operations. Chinese are unsuccessful in trying to shape the Philippines’ behaviour, there might be a domino effect in Southeast Asia, leading to other Southeast Asian countries following Manila’s example and engaging in similar actions against China in the South China Sea.

What is the strategic importance of the South China Sea for China?

The South China Sea holds significant strategic importance for China due to its economic, geopolitical, and security factors. It is a vital maritime route for China, facilitating a significant portion of global trade and a significant portion of its crude oil and natural gas imports. The South China Sea is also rich in natural resources, making it valuable for China’s growing energy needs and desire for resource security.

China’s control over the South China Sea extends its geopolitical influence in the Asia-Pacific region, projecting power and asserting interests in neighbouring countries. This is particularly important in the context of China’s territorial claims in the region, which are disputed by several other countries.

The South China Sea provides China with a strategic military position, allowing it to monitor and control maritime traffic, enhance surveillance, and deploy naval and air assets to protect its interests and assert its territorial claims. The South China Sea issue is highly emotive and nationalistic in China, reflecting the country’s nationalistic stance on protecting its territorial claims.

China’s control of the South China Sea can serve as a deterrent against potential adversaries, such as the United States and its regional allies. Its strategic location at the crossroads of major maritime routes allows China’s navy to access the broader Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, projecting naval power beyond its immediate coastline.

What is the cabbage strategy?

The “cabbage strategy” is a term used to describe China’s methodical and layered approach to asserting territorial claims and control in the South China Sea. This strategy involves constructing and fortifying artificial islands on reefs and shoals, building airstrips, ports, and military facilities, and strengthening its territorial claims.

China often invokes historical claims and refuses to accept international arbitration rulings against its claims, preferring to negotiate bilaterally with other claimant states. It uses economic leverage to encourage cooperation or remain silent on the issue, and engages in information warfare by controlling narratives and spreading its version of events through state-controlled media outlets.

The term “cabbage strategy” was coined by a Chinese admiral and has been used in various analyses and discussions regarding China’s actions in the region. It represents a patient and incremental approach to territorial expansion and control in the region, which has been a source of tension and concern among neighbouring countries and the international community.

China’s Joint Development Policy in South China Sea: Incentives and Choices

China’s historical claims to the South China Sea, including the ambiguous Nine-Dash Line, have been disputed by neighbouring countries and rejected by international tribunals. China has pursued joint development agreements with some claimant states, including Vietnam, to allow resource exploration and economic activities in disputed areas without addressing sovereignty disputes.

This has raised regional and global concerns, with critics arguing that China’s assertiveness threatens freedom of navigation and undermines the rules-based international order. China has also undertaken significant land reclamation and construction activities on disputed islands, converting them into military outposts, further exacerbating tensions in the region.

China’s Joint Development Policy in the South China Sea is a part of a complex geopolitical issue, with China’s approach to the region affecting regional stability and international relations. The policy’s long-term resolution remains unresolved due to the lack of resolution to underlying sovereignty disputes.

China’s approach to joint development in the South China Sea has been a subject of international debate due to territorial disputes and geopolitical tensions. The country has pursued a dual-track approach, combining assertive territorial claims with a willingness to engage in joint development agreements. This dual-track approach is motivated by China’s growing energy needs and desire to secure access to natural resources, such as oil, natural gas, and fisheries.

China’s aggressive territorial claims have led to tensions with neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Joint development offers a way to reduce these tensions by allowing multiple parties to share the benefits of resource exploitation without resolving the underlying sovereignty disputes. Economic diplomacy is another reason for China’s involvement in joint development agreements.

China often presents joint development as a way to uphold international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which it can argue is a lawful and cooperative approach to managing resources in disputed areas. Bilateral agreements with individual claimant states allow China to exert greater influence over the terms of joint development agreements.

China’s pursuit of bilateral agreements may also be seen as an attempt to divide the unity among Southeast Asian nations. Joint development can delay the resolution of territorial disputes, which China may view as advantageous as it continues to assert its territorial claims and strengthen its presence in the South China Sea.

1932: The Soviet Union and China signed a non-aggression pact.China's Aggressive South China Sea Tactics Prompt Manila's Assertive ResponseChina's Joint Development Policy in South China Sea: Incentives and ChoicesPhilippinesSouth China SeaWhat is the cabbage strategy?What is the strategic importance of the South China Sea for China?