Philippines set up coast guard post to monitor China’s military build-up near Taiwan

On May 24, Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said a new coast guard station on an island near Taiwan was established to step up surveillance efforts over a region that has witnessed China’s military build-up, and vessel patrols, including research and survey ships. 

The Philippine Coast Guard station on Itbayat Island in the northern Batanes province “is a strategic move to enhance maritime domain awareness and strengthen the security measures along Luzon Strait,” Ano said. He added that Luzon Strait, situated between the Philippines’ main Luzon Island and Taiwan, witnessed a “military build-up” in 2022 when China reacted to improved U.S.-Taiwan political dynamics, and that it was vital to guarantee peace and freedom of navigation in the area.

China claims self-ruling Taiwan as its own, to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary. Taiwan has dismissed China’s territorial claims. China is also claiming almost the entire South China Sea, including areas inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, notwithstanding a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled Beijing’s sweeping claims had no legal grounds.

In recent months, increasing tension between the Philippines and China, in which CCG vessels have used water cannons, has led to minor collisions, wounded Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats in disputed waters.

Launched on May 23, the new station will harness maritime data and intelligence to permit the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to respond to threats including foreign incursions, using technology such as radar, automatic identification, satellite communication, and coastal cameras. 

“The behavior of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG), People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy and Chinese militias are sometimes unpredictable,” Ano said during a visit to the island. 

On May 24, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said that China’s 2021 rule allowing the CCG to fire on foreign vessels in disputed waters is a cause for international concern, adding that this rule is a provocation.

“Such behavior is not only a violation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), but also a violation of precepts of the UN charter, which lays upon each responsible state the duty to refrain from the use of force or aggression to enforce, particularly in this case, illegal territorial claims in the maritime domain,” Teodoro said. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry clarified that the new rule was meant to safeguard the maritime order and that there was no cause of concern if there was no unlawful behavior by foreign entities. 

On June 2, during the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore, China’s defense minister Dong Jun cautioned about “limits” to Beijing’s restraint in the South China Sea and over the mobilization of ballistic missiles in the Indo-Pacific region, which was interpreted by observers as alluding to the Philippines and the U.S., which have been enhancing defense ties in wake of China’s rising military assertiveness. 

“China has maintained sufficient restraint in the face of rights infringements and provocation, but there are limits to this,” Dong said.

Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said during the Shangri-La Dialogue that the country would not succumb to Chinese pressure, in spite of China’s “illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive actions”, which “continue to violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictions”. 

“I do not intend to yield,” he said. “Filipinos do not yield.”

Senior U.S. officials have on various occasions reiterated the U.S.’ ironclad commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines and that any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke the mutual defense treaty.

Owing to its South China Sea stance and proximity to Taiwan, Philippine support would be vital for the U.S. in the event of any conflict.

Photo credit: Pixabay/ DiceME

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