The Philippines in the South China Sea dispute
Renato Cruz De Castro
Professor, De La Salle University, Manila, The Philippines
The 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippine and Chinese civilian vessels constitutes an arch-typical international incident. Three years before the incident, China had already become more assertive in pursuing its expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea. Since 2009 it has built a powerful and formidable navy to back its territorial claims. It has also actively challenged the littoral states’ EEZ claims and threatened them with various military exercises aimed at demonstrating its readiness and capacity to exert coercive military pressure to effect control over the islands and waters within its nine-dash map.
These developments coincided with a major political change in the Philippines – the election of Benigno Aquino III to the presidency. After a few months in office, President Aquino began to challenge China’s claim in South China Sea by shifting the focus of the AFP from internal security to external defence and seeking US diplomatic and military support for a balancing policy against China. The Obama Administration responded by extending additional military and diplomatic assistance to its southeast ally as it, in turn, had been concerned about China’s growing naval power and assertiveness with regard to its maritime claims.
These developments, together with the strategic pivot of the US to the Pacific, have strengthened the resolve of the Philippines and Vietnam to protect the regions they claim sovereignty over. President Aquino’s balancing policy against China and US support for this policy led, in turn, to a dramatic deterioration in Philippine–China relations. This fuelled the two-month long standoff between Philippine and Chinese civilian vessels in Scarborough Shoal. While the deadlock ended when both the Philippines and China withdrew their civilian vessels at Scarborough Shoal in the middle of June 2012, the fuel that ignited the impasse remains.
Such potential for hostility will persist as long as China continues to increase its efforts to control the region and as other claimant countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, remain fi rm in asserting their right to control their respective claims in the South China Sea.
Read the full text at http://nsc.anu.edu.au/documents/occasional-5-brief-6.pdf