The Philippines is secretly strengthening a ship at the heart of the dispute in the South China Sea

Open the US Election Countdown newsletter for free

The Philippines has secretly reinforced a rickety warship stranded on a reef in the South China Sea that is central to an increasingly serious dispute with Beijing, according to six people familiar with the operation.

The sources said that in recent months, the Philippine Army has carried out missions to reinforce the Sierra Madre, which is stationed in the disputed area of ​​Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. She did so out of growing concern that the rusting ship was in danger of collapsing.

The Philippines ran aground in the Sierra Madre region in 1999 to help consolidate its claim to the reef, which China is also asserting as part of its broad claim – opposed by its neighbors – to control most of the South China Sea.

An international court in 2016 rejected Beijing’s claims to the area and said it had no legal rights to Second Thomas Shoal, which lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Sierra Madre region has become the most dangerous flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific region. In recent months, the Chinese Coast Guard has used increasingly violent tactics — launching water cannons, ramming boats, and using weapons — to prevent Manila from resupplying marines stationed on the ship.

Manila accused Beijing of launching a “brutal attack” on Monday, the most aggressive action in Thomas Shoal II since China began boycotting supply missions a year ago. Washington responded by warning Beijing that the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty applied to the Sierra Madre.

See also  Bucha: The source said that the Russian forces discussed the killing of Ukrainian civilians in a radio transmission that was intercepted by Germany

The Philippines insists that its missions send humanitarian supplies to the site. But China accuses Manila of bringing construction materials to reinforce the ship and prevent it from collapsing and emerging from the reef, something Manila denies.

In an interview, Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippines’ ambassador to the United States, said Manila was not “strengthening” the ship. “This is a shipwreck, a World War II ship that’s been there since the ’90s, so it needs to be repaired. We’re just doing a humanitarian job of giving these people a decent place to be because they’re stationed there.”

However, people familiar with the situation said Manila had secretly reinforced the ship in ways that would extend its life.

Beijing may be aware and angry that the Philippines has successfully delivered construction materials. . . China has waited 25 years for the ship to break apart and slide off the reef, and the continued escalation against the Philippines suggests it will not back down and admit defeat, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund.

“The potential for armed conflict around this small submerged feature is increasing.”

Highlighting the increasingly tense situation around the reef, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned last month that he would regard any Chinese action that kills a Filipino as “very close to….” . . An act of war.”

Zach Cooper, an Asian security expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the United States and the Philippines are “close” to triggering Article 5 of their mutual defense treaty, which will require them to “confront a common threat.”

See also  Emmanuel Macron plays a fool by Vladimir Putin

“This was no small thing. In NATO, for example, Article 5 was triggered only once, in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” Cooper said.

“I believe the only way to deter these dangerous actions in the future will be more direct engagement,” he added. This could take the form of sailing or flying U.S. assets nearby during Philippine resupply operations, or, if China continues to be reckless, U.S. forces could directly assist in operations, he added. Resupply.

The US Army has already formulated some options. The US Indo-Pacific Command last year proposed sending military engineers to support the ship, according to several people.

But the proposal was rejected because some officials considered it too risky and because Manila wanted to deal with the situation. The Indo-Pacific Command and the White House did not comment.

“If the Philippines made some effort to secure the Sierra Madre and ensure it could not easily emerge from the reef, it would be a bold move to protect Philippine sovereignty and one that Washington was likely not only aware of but supportive of.” said Eric Sayers, former advisor to the Indo-Pacific Commander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *