In the choppy waters of the South China Sea, tensions are reaching a boiling point over the contested Second Thomas Shoal. Recent events have put the United States in a precarious position, urging it to intervene as China escalates its actions and the Philippines stands its ground, Asia Times reported.
Second Thomas Shoal Standoff
A move by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel involved using a water cannon to prevent a Philippine government-chartered boat on August 5, escorted by its coast guard vessels, from delivering supplies to its troops stationed on Second Thomas Shoal, a published article reported.
This incident follows a troubling event in February when a Chinese Coast Guard vessel pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.
While these kinds of incidents have sadly become somewhat routine in the South China Sea, this one stood out for its audacity and the response it triggered from the United States. It appeared as if China’s provocative behavior was a message to the Philippines, signaling that it had crossed a line by aligning itself more closely with the US.
This particular incident might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing China, the Philippines, and the US closer to a military confrontation.
In January 2013, the Philippines asserted its rights to the submerged shoal as part of its continental shelf and exclusive economic zone and filed a complaint against China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China vehemently rejected the ruling, escalating the situation by demanding the removal of the Philippine ship from the Second Thomas Shoal.
Although the international arbitration panel’s decision indicated that no country could claim sovereignty over the submerged feature itself, this dispute has become deeply entwined with nationalism on both sides, potentially threatening the stability of the ruling governments.
China has now called for talks with the Philippines, but it may be too late for diplomacy to defuse the situation.
US Contemplates Intervention for Second Thomas Shoal Standoff
The US has consistently voiced support for the Philippines in the South China Sea, warning China that its actions could invoke the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). However, China has chosen to ignore these warnings.
It’s crucial to note that China’s claims and actions at Second Thomas Shoal violate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, challenging the existing international order led and enforced by the United States.
While the US has issued numerous warnings, it has yet to follow through with its rhetoric. However, in response to the recent incident, the US declared its preparedness to assist the Philippines if China interferes with its resupply efforts on the shoal.
As the situation escalates, the next move rests with the Philippines or China. Calls for the US to back up its words with action are growing louder, but ambiguity still surrounds its commitment.
It is now imperative for the US to communicate clearly with the Philippine government that if it provokes an armed clash with China, it may find itself alone in the fray. Despite the uncertainties, the stage seems set for a potentially explosive showdown at Second Thomas Shoal.