Analysts suggest that Beijing is likely to view Manila’s plan to upgrade its South China Sea outposts as a provocation, but in place of swift reactions, China appears to be adopting a “wait and see” approach. This measured response is indicative of the complexities surrounding the scenario, and analysts believe that any move by Manila would be met with disruptions from Beijing. However, the potential involvement of the United States in helping the Philippines could complicate China’s available options.
Tensions between China and the Philippines have accelerated in the past year, particularly over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. Face-offs involving lasers, water cannons, and collisions near military outposts in this strategically important waterway have marked the strained relationship between China and the Philippines.
Manila’s announced plan to upgrade its South China Sea outposts adds a new layer to the ongoing tensions. While Beijing is likely to perceive this as a provocation, analysts note that China’s current “wait and see” stance suggests a strategic assessment of the situation.
Romeo Brawner, the military chief of the Philippines last week announced a plan to upgrade all the nine territorial features occupied by Manila in the region which are mostly islands, shoals, and reefs. This is to be done by installing desalination machines and communications equipment and also by making several other improvements for the troops deployed there.
Installation of a desalination machine on the BRP Sierra Madre which is an aging warship is also in the plans of the military. The military chief of the Philippines also marked that the ship would not be fortified as a part of the development plan. The response of Beijing to the plan by Manila has been muted so far, with a warning by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that it firmly opposed ‘illegal construction’ on Philippines-controlled islands and reefs.
Senior Colonel Wu Qian, the spokesman of the Chinese defence ministry issued the same warning on Thursday stating that the Philippines should take responsibility for deteriorating the ties between the nations and urging Manila to abstain from the ‘wrong path’. He further stated that there is an urging for the Philippine side to respect history, acknowledge the reality, and refrain from proceeding along the incorrect path. Nevertheless, he warned that if the Philippines insists on pursuing its chosen course, firm countermeasures will undoubtedly be taken.
This consideration underscores the strategic importance of the South China Sea and the broader geopolitical implications of the ongoing tensions. The “wait and see” approach adopted by Beijing suggests a careful consideration of the situation, underscoring the need for diplomatic channels to address the underlying issues and prevent further escalation.