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Manila acting like the snake that bit the farmer that came to its aid: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-05-14 19:44

Atin Ito, or "This is ours", a Filipino nongovernmental organization, is reportedly organizing some Philippine fishermen to fish and organize a regatta in the waters near China's Huangyan Island this week at the same time the China Coast Guard vessels and some Chinese fishing boats are carrying out a maritime rescue exercise in the same sea area.

The organization has also invited some international reporters and observers to join the voyage to monitor and document the situation and, it claims, "witness firsthand the challenges faced by Filipinos in those waters".

Although it alleges that the regatta is not "a provocation to incite conflict", by emphasizing that the activity is intended to "reclaim our space and assert our territorial integrity", it has made it clear that the "civic" activity in Chinese waters around Huangyan Island is exactly that — a provocation. It is a move that is intended to provoke a response by which it can portray Beijing in a negative light.

The Philippines never challenged China's sovereignty and jurisdiction over the island before the 1990s. It was in the late 1990s, that the Philippines started advancing its territorial claim over some Chinese islands in the South China Sea, including the Huangyan Island and Ren'ai Reef, on the grounds of "geographic proximity" and on the excuse that the islands are located within the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine exclusive economic zone according to a one-sided interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy deliberately ran a World-War II landing craft, the BRP Sierra Madre, aground on China's Ren'ai Reef, claiming it had a hull leak that needed repairing as an excuse. Despite Beijing's request that the vessel be removed, the Philippines has not done so, instead it has occupied the vessel with rotated troops, to create the impression that the reef and nearby waters "belong to" the Philippines. And about 15 years ago, the Philippines amended the Philippine Territorial Sea Baselines Act to brazenly include the Chinese islands, including Huangyan Island, into its territory.

Despite the insatiable appetite Manila has demonstrated in its desire to gobble up Chinese territory, Beijing has exercised great restraint and displayed considerable composure and always borne the bigger picture of Sino-Philippine ties in mind, insisting on resolving the disputes through talks.

Beijing has not only allowed the Philippines to supply necessary life support to the military personnel it stations on the stranded old ship but has also given a green light to Philippine fishing boats to fish in the waters near the Huangyan Island, excluding its lagoon.

However, after the Ferdinand Marcos Jr government took office about two years ago, the once tranquil waters were quickly stirred up by its shortsighted betting on taking a free ride on the United States' China containment strategy to help whitewash its looting.

The US has willingly let it do so as it wants to use the Philippines as proxy to provoke and confront China. The push-and-shoves the Philippine coast guard has initiated between its vessels and those of its Chinese counterpart, and the cat-and-mouse game the Philippines has been playing with its fishing boats in the waters are both aimed at prompting Beijing to act as recklessly as Manila, so as to provide the US side with an excuse to interfere in the bilateral affair.

The activity organized by Atin Ito in the waters near Huangyan Island is another attempt to incite a response whereby China can be portrayed as a bully, and a threat to regional peace and stability. The Marcos government, encouraged by the US, clearly has no qualms about using civilians, no matter the potentially dire consequences that may arise should a mishap occur. Indeed, it appears Atin Ito is speculating on that exact possibility.

If the Philippine side insists on taking advantage of China's restraint with such dangerous stunts, it will ultimately result in a lose-lose situation, but one in which the Philippines will pay the higher price.

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