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China's aggression against Philippines' resupply mission was calculated

The China Coast Guard's 5 August water-cannon assault on the Philippines' resupply mission didn't just happen. Things didn't just get out of hand. No, China has clearly been planning for this calculated aggression.
Ray Powell | AUGUST 6, 2023
China's aggression against Philippines' resupply mission was calculated

Ray Powell

Director

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The China Coast Guard's 5 August water-cannon assault on the Philippines' resupply mission didn't just happen. Things didn't just get out of hand. 

No, China has clearly been planning for this calculated aggression.

Three months prior to yesterday's resupply, China's force in the area around Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal consisted of a single coast guard vessel and three maritime militia ships. A month ago it had expanded its militia force to 17 ships. By yesterday's mission China had 4 coast guard and 32 militia ships ready to interdict the resupply. 

[Update: The Philippine Coast Guard has since reported that they encountered a total of 6 China Coast Guard and 4 PLA Navy ships.]

While most of the militia ships remained in the rear area near Mischief Reef, most weighed anchor and deployed from the port in the hours leading up to the resupply. 

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Two Philippine Coast Guard ships supported by one Navy offshore patrol vessel escorting resupply boats encounter an armada of 4 China Coast Guard and 32 militia ships.

The signal was clear--China was ready and willing to escalate even further if need be.

Beijing has obviously made the calculation that the Philippines' new assertiveness in defending its exclusive economic zone, strengthening its U.S. alliance and other security partnerships, and publicizing China's gray-zone aggression in the West Philippine Sea represents an affront that must not be tolerated. An example must be made. 

In the infamous words of former foreign minister Yang Jiechi: "China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact.

"Small countries" are expected to know their place.

Manila has stubbornly refused to accept its assigned place. Instead it immediately released the evidence of this escalation for all to see. This has already earned it renewed support from the U.S.--which again reaffirmed its intent to honor its Mutual Defense Treaty obligations--as well as a host of other like-minded partners. 

In fact, the past 6 months of Chinese aggression and Philippine transparency have only served to further internationalize this issue and further isolate China.

Meanwhile, China's weak attempts to change the subject--either by inviting the Philippines' former president to Beijing or proposing joint naval exercises--simply cannot compete with visuals like this:

China water-cannons Philippine resupply vessel near Ayungin Shoal, 5 August 2023. Video courtesy Jay Batongbacal via Twitter/X.

Ray Powell

Ray is the Director of SeaLight and Project Lead for Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He's a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

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