An altercation at sea . . .
Last Tuesday, three of China’s coast guard vessels used water cannons and blocked two Philippine supply boats from delivering supplies to marines stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal. The Ayungin Shoal, as it is called in the Philippines, is part of the Spratly Islands in the contested waters of the South China Sea. While the Philippines has occupied the shoal as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) since 1999, China also claims it based on its concept of “historic rights.” The disrupted supply mission was successfully remounted yesterday following an informal agreement between the Philippines and China.
The perennial issue of the South China Sea . . .
The South China Sea, a resource-rich and strategically important waterway, is the site of several, decades-long, complex, and overlapping maritime and territorial claims by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam that occasionally flare-up. In 2016, a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration validated the Philippines claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and declared invalid many of China’s claims in the region, including any claim under its “historic rights” and so-called nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling, wanting to resolve the matter bilaterally. Following last week’s events, various countries voiced their support for the Philippines and quoted the 2016 ruling. The Philippines went a step further, affirming that an armed attack on its ships could trigger the U.S.-Philippines mutual defence treaty.
A new kid on the block . . .
This latest incident in the South China Sea comes as naval forces from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. began a joint military exercise on Sunday in the Philippine Sea. The exercise, ANNUALEX, is led by the Japanese Navy and will last until November 30. It will allow the five navies to engage in training exercises to bolster various maritime communication and air and marine warfare operations. Interestingly, this marks the first time in 20 years that a German warship is participating in a naval exercise in Asia. On its return trip, the German ship plans to sail though the South China Sea to demonstrate its right to freedom of passage, highlighting Germany’s evolving stance in the region and its increasing concern with the escalating tensions in the area.