The Philippines established a coast guard monitoring base on the disputed island of Thitu in the South China Sea on Friday (December 1). The move is intended to enhance the Philippines' ability to monitor Chinese ship and aircraft movements in the disputed waterway.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, along with several Philippine officials, flew to Thitu Island in an Air Force plane on Friday to preside over a ceremony inaugurating the new surveillance base.
Earlier this year, Chinese naval vessels were seen along with dozens of militia boats stationed around Thitu Island, one of nine Philippine-controlled islands in the Spratly archipelago. This sparked tensions over territorial claims in the area, leading the Philippine Coast Guard to see increased activity in the area.
Ano said China's actions were a clear form of intimidation, with Chinese vessels openly violating international law.
As a result, the Philippines decided this year to allow the expansion of the U.S. military presence in its local military camps, in accordance with the provisions of the 2014 defense pact. In addition, the Philippines recently launched joint sea and air patrols with the United States and Australia as part of a new deterrence strategy, putting the two allies on a collision course with Beijing.
Ano stressed that separate joint patrols involving the United States and Australia will continue and could be expanded to include other countries such as Japan once a security agreement is negotiated between Tokyo and Manila. He even expressed openness to like-minded countries joining as observers or participants.
According to Reuters, the Philippines' new guard post is a three-story building equipped with the latest technology, including radar, automatic identification, satellite communications, and surveillance cameras. The Thitu post, the Philippines' outpost in the South China Sea, is the largest and most strategic in the region.
Thitu Island, also known by its local name of Pag-asa, is located approximately 480 kilometers west of the Philippine province of Palawan and is inhabited by approximately 200 people. The island serves as a base for the Philippines to secure its territorial claims in the region.
Regarding the Philippines-initiated naval patrols, China has warned that such joint naval patrols should not infringe on its "territorial sovereignty, rights, and maritime interests".
Meanwhile, although the Philippines has responded to China's expansionist actions in the South China Sea by establishing a guard post in Thitu, China reasserted its claim to the sea area on Friday.
On the day of the inauguration of the Philippines' new guard post on Thitu Island, Ano said Chinese forces had sent radio warnings to them to stay away. In the end, however, the Philippine pilots chose to ignore the messages and instead regularly asserted the Philippines' sovereign rights and control over the area.
On that occasion, Ano also said that at least 18 suspected Chinese militia vessels had been spotted scattered off the coast of Thitu, including a Chinese naval vessel.
Despite the escalation of the current situation, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stated that the Philippines will not cede an inch of its territory to any foreign power.
In a meeting with U.S. military leaders in Honolulu about two weeks ago, Marcos described the situation in the South China Sea as increasingly dire, especially with China's growing interest in atolls and shoals that are "getting closer and closer" to the Philippine coast. He stressed, however, that the Philippines would not give up in the face of such challenges.
"The Philippines will not surrender a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power," Marcos warned.
Source: AP News | Reuters