On the same day, the Philippine Coast Guard announced that it had removed the buoys by order of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin rejected the move on Wednesday and reiterated that Scarborough Shoal, known in China as Huangyan Island, is Chinese territory and Beijing will always protect the area’s sovereignty and maritime interests.
„This so-called move by the Philippine side is a travesty of its own,” Wang said.
Hu Bo, director of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Study Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank, said it was unlikely that China would allow Philippine ships to enter the disputed area.
„If Philippine ships are allowed into the lagoon, it means that China’s control over Huangyan Island is at risk,” Hu said.
„That’s the bottom line.”
Calling on the country’s fishermen to remain active at sea, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Wednesday it was investigating several law enforcement efforts.
After nearly two weeks of standoff over Manila’s mission to redeploy troops to the Second Thomas Shoal, Beijing scaled back its response in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions.
„They really needed the redistribution work, but what’s happening now is that Philippine ships are trying to get in. [Scarborough Shoal] pool,” Hu said. „It seems [the Philippine side] wants to enter [the lagoon] So that they can make a show of asserting its sovereign right, it is an opportunistic move.
Last month’s conflict was not the first in the region this year – tensions flared when China accused the Philippines of using a „military-grade” laser light to disrupt a resupply mission to the second Thomas Shoal.
On Wednesday, the Philippine Navy announced that it will conduct a 12-day bilateral exercise with its US counterpart to strengthen defense cooperation.
Tai Fan, an associate professor at Jinan University’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, seems to have hardened his stance on Philippine security policy, particularly in the South China Sea.
„The tough stance of the Philippines is unprecedented,” Tai said.
„I believe the United States has a very important role to play in pushing from behind.”
But Hu, with SCSPI, said the risk of a wider conflict over Scarborough Shoal was low.
„I don’t think the Philippines is ready to stand with China now like it was in 2012.”
The Philippine navy has been locked in a bitter standoff since Beijing and Manila tried to seize Chinese fishing vessels off Hainan Island accused of illegally harvesting coral and giant clams in Scarborough Shoal a decade ago.
Beijing insisted at the time that Chinese fishermen were sheltering in the lagoon from bad weather.
The maritime dispute escalated into economic boycotts before the Philippine government announced two months later that it had signed an agreement with China for the two countries’ ships, although Manila later said Beijing had not withdrawn its maritime law enforcement ships.
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