Philippines launches strategy of publicising Chinese actions in South China Sea

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The Philippine coastguard has launched a strategy of publicising aggressive actions by China in the disputed South China Sea, which has countered Chinese propaganda and sparked international condemnation that has put Beijing under the spotlight, a Philippine official said on Wednesday.

Manila’s coastguard has intensified patrols in the disputed waters and taken extra efforts to document and publicise assertive Chinese behaviour in the strategic waterway, including a February 6 incident in which a Chinese coastguard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members on a Philippine patrol boat off a disputed reef.

The coastguard protested and released a video of the incident, which sparked alarm in 

the Philippines, the United States and some other Western countries. President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr summoned China’s ambassador to Manila and later said the Philippine military has shifted its focus from fighting Muslim and communist insurgents and other internal threats to external defence amid long-seething South China Sea territorial disputes.

“I’d like to emphasise that the best way to address Chinese ‘grey zone’ activities in the West Philippine Sea is to expose it,” coastguard Commodore Jay Tarriela said, referring to China’s use of ostensibly civilian fishing and research vessels to perform military tasks to avoid a military response from rival claimant states.

Tarriela used the Philippine name for the stretch of the South China Sea close to its Western coast. He spoke at a Manila forum about China’s “grey zone” operations in the disputed sea.

The Philippine coastguard’s role as a mouthpiece against Chinese aggression “allows like-minded states to express condemnation and reproach which puts Beijing in a spotlight”, he said. “Chinese actions in the shadows are now checked, which also forced them to come out in the open or to publicly lie”.

Tarriela said Manila’s outrage over the laser-pointing incident prompted China, including its ambassador to Manila, to explain its position when asked about the incident at news conferences.

Chinese officials said the Philippine patrol vessel trespassed into Chinese territory and that the Chinese coastguard acted “professionally and with restraint” and used a harmless laser to track the Philippine boat’s movement.

By making public unedited coastguard videos and photographs of such Chinese actions, “we can once again reshape public opinion to weigh things objectively based on facts and not just propaganda”, Tarriela said.

The US State Department reacted to the incident by saying that China’s “dangerous operational behaviour directly threatens regional peace and stability” and “undermines the rules-based international order”. It renewed a warning that it would defend the Philippines, a treaty ally, if Filipino forces, aircraft and ships come under attack in the South China Sea.

Raymond Powell, a retired US Air Force colonel who has studied China’s strategies, praised the Philippine coastguard’s efforts to publicise China’s actions in the South China Sea but warned that the Philippine government would come under Chinese pressure to “stop making so much trouble, stop releasing things”.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, putting it on a collision course with other claimants such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Despite friendly overtures to Beijing by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Marcos Jnr, who visited Beijing and met President Xi Jinping in January, tensions have persisted, resulting in a strengthening of the military alliance between the Philippines and the US.

Source: scmp