China’s Naval Aggression Escalates

The Chinese Coast Guard has increased its assertive presence in the East China Sea this week. On Tuesday, China deployed a Coast Guard patrol in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, a territory simultaneously claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. Japan immediately responded with a diplomatic message urging the Chinese vessels to vacate what it considers to be its sovereign territorial waters.

In a consistent pattern of behavior, the Chinese Coast Guard claimed to have expelled a Philippine vessel from the South China Sea near the Scarborough Shoal last week. This area, rich in resources and strategically significant, has been a flashpoint in the region, contested by several nations. China’s claim over Scarborough Shoal, significantly farther from its mainland than the Philippines, reflects a broader strategy of territorial expansion in these waters. Notably, the shoal is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Yet, China has exerted control since 2012 following a fishing rights dispute.

Furthermore, on Saturday, China reported an incident involving a Philippine civilian vessel in the contested South China Sea. This occurred near the Spratly Islands, another hotbed of territorial disputes. Manila’s response to Beijing’s assertiveness has been firm, refusing last year to tow away a vessel grounded at the Second Thomas Shoal, a move intended to reinforce its sovereignty claim.

Wu Shicun, chairman of the Huayang Centre for Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance, recently threateningly called for China to “show our swords when necessary” in the South China Sea. Wu’s call for a more aggressive stance reflects an alarming shift in China’s approach to territorial disputes, raising concerns about the potential for escalated tensions and conflicts.

China’s claims, often extending far beyond its legitimate territorial waters, have been consistently refuted by international law. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 dismissed China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, a decision Beijing chose to ignore. This defiance of international legal norms presents a significant challenge to the rule-based international order.

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Republic of the Philippines has aligned more closely with Washington, complicating China’s efforts to dominate the region. Other nations, like Vietnam and Malaysia, have also intensified their presence in these disputed areas, signaling a collective unease with China’s maritime ambitions.