South China Sea: Philippines dramatically boost patrols raising risk of Beijing navy clash

South China Sea: Expert on China's standoff with Philippines

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The Philippines have boosted the number of naval vessels patrolling the hotly contested South China Sea“beyond anything seen in recent years,” according to new ship tracking data.  Manila’s coastguard has been facing off against Chinese military and fishing vessels that have violated the countries exclusive economic zone in the waters. Now Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a dramatic increase in the number of navy patrols in the South China Sea raising the risk of a confrontation with China’s powerful military.

According to ship-tracking data captured by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI)  Philippine navy vessels carried out a least 57 patrols around the hotly contested Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoals between March 1 and May 25.

In a recently published report, AMTI remarked: “This was a substantial increase over the previous 10 months.

“When three vessels were tracked making seven total visits to contested features.”

The report authors also noted this Filipino military activity was “beyond anything seen in recent years.”

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In recent years Beijing has begun building structures to claim disputed territory in the South China Sea.

China has fortified and armed shoals claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines much to the anger of Manila and Hanoi.

“Recent patrols have included Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by the Philippines but patrolled daily by China, Whitsun Reef, where the recent militia swarm was detected, unoccupied Sabina Shoal near Second Thomas, and Scarborough Shoal, where China has maintained a permanent presence since 2012,” said AMTI.

Despite efforts from the Phillippines to ward of incursion from China, AMTI warns the actions of the Filipino patrols “pale in comparison” to China’s regional presence.

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 AMTI explained that while the Philippines patrols are fleeting while “Chinese vessels, by contrast, operate as sentries, staying at targeted features for weeks at a time and usually leaving only once a replacement has arrived to continue the watch.”

“Whether the Philippines will continue its current pace of patrols, and how China might react, is unclear,” the report added.

“But while Manila’s combination of more public protest and greater presence seems to have had some success in dispersing Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef and Sabina Shoal.

“It hasn’t impacted the overall number of Chinese vessels operating in disputed waters.”

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The Chinese Communist Party lays claims to the whole of the South China Sea and the Chinese Military has constructed island bases equipped with air defense batteries and airstrips.

Some of these manmade islands have been built within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

China’s attempts to undermine Filipino maritime sovereignty have placed Mr Duterte under pressure from the country’s nationalists who would like to see more hardline opposition offered to counter Beijing.

Mr Duterte has often stopped short of openly criticizing Xi Jinping and has instead pursued a more diplomatic approach in hopes of securing lucrative Chinese investment.

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