While Chinese vessels are still doing swarming maneuvers in the surrounding waters of Kalayaan Island, another incident of harassment has been reported on Friday when a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) aircraft with several media correspondents onboard were “ordered” seven times to “leave immediately.”
As quoted in news reports, a Chinese radio message from one of the loitering vessels near Kalayaan Island said, “You have entered a Chinese reef and constituted a security threat. To avoid misunderstanding, leave immediately.”
The PCG pilot appropriately responded they were flying within Philippine territory. A Chinese navy ship and a coastguard vessel were also spotted within 15 kilometers from the shores of Kalayaan Island
These new bullying incidents along with a pile of others documented in around 200 diplomatic protests are all part of Beijing’s gray zone operations to assert their “nine dash” claim which has been declared invalid when the Philippines won its Permanent Court of Arbitration case in 2016.
China has refused to abide by the ruling and has instead intensified militarization in the area to the extent of massive base building activities with sporadic waves of Chinese Maritime Militia incursion into the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This has caused enormous damage to the environment and marine resources in our Exclusive Economic Zone and violated Philippine territorial rights.
How to counter these gray zone or cunningly calibrated acts of aggression that are just at the brink of committing blatant acts of war was the hot topic in the hybrid forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute in partnership with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Philippines serendipitously held a day after the incident caused media journalists to witness firsthand how China insistently intimidates the Philippines.
Anke Riefenstahl, Ambassador from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, in her keynote address said the Indo-Pacific region can only benefit from peace and stability if all countries in the region do their part.
“We need to strengthen partnerships with like-minded countries. This can involve cooperation on maritime security, information sharing, joint military exercises, [and] coordinated diplomatic efforts. We also need to enhance maritime domain awareness through the use of advanced technologies and intelligence gathering” Ambassador Riefenstahl said.
Riefenstahl further pointed out the need to counter propaganda and disinformation aimed at influencing public opinion and undermining regional stability.
Dr. Daniel Schmücking, the Representative to Cambodia and the Philippines of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung described how ASEAN is becoming the new battleground for the new strategic competition and emphasized the importance of multilateralism and the rule-based world order.
On the new strategy of the PCG in addressing gray zone operations in the WPS, CG Commodore Jay Tarriela, Adviser of the Commandant for Maritime Security of the Philippine Coast Guard, exposing bullying behavior for the awareness of all Filipinos and a global audience will remove the “shades of gray” and uncover “the black and white.”
This is a stark shift from the appeasing approach of the last administration to an alliance aligned position to uphold the international rules-based order and a directive to call out and publish each hostile action by the Chinese.
This close watch on Chinese aggression will cause international criticism and distrust which can have disruptive consequences for a country whose current economic power can be affected by its moral stature in a globalized ecosystem where abiding by the rule of law is a fundamental value.
Stratbase ADRi Trustee and Program Convenor Dr. Renato de Castro for his part said the Philippines and its allies should strengthen regional security institutions in the wider context of ASEAN, the Philippines, Japan, and Australia addressing China’s gray zone aggression in the South China Sea.
“To limit China’s ability to conduct grey zone operations against the Philippines requires Manila, Washington, Canberra, and Tokyo to convey strong signals of commitment for mutual assistance through security agreements, troop deployments, arms transfers, and multinational exercises, thereby reducing the Philippines’ sense of insecurity, Dr. de Castro said.
Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit expressed the institute’s belief defending a rules-based order is a collective responsibility of the international community strengthened through partnerships and alliances and that “attempts to challenge the status quo and disturb this order by any means, including gray zone operations, cannot be tolerated.”
“The Philippines and other Indo-Pacific states must engage in strategies that will ultimately change China’s behavior to be symbiotic with the internationally established rules-based order,” Prof. Manhit said.
The latest bullying instance experienced by a plane load of reporters in a PCG flight over the Kalayaan islands shows that media is now being embedded in the gray zone.
The immediate global reportage of the hostile acts in the West Philippine Sea is a potent countermeasure against the state sponsored disinformation machinery of China.
Wide-eyed vigilance to tell the truth about Chinese gray zone actions will force Beijing to concoct bigger lies that, in the end, cannot stand up to credible witnesses and evidence.