Beijing’s persistence in asserting its illegal claims over the South China Sea remains deeply troubling; its disregard for international law has escalated tensions in the region.

Tensions in the South China Sea have once again flared up as the Philippines and the United States accuse China of illegally targeting two Philippine supply ships near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. In a further escalation of Beijing’s pressure campaign, a Chinese coast guard ship was reported to have blocked and water-cannoned the vessels, hindering their resupply mission for troops stationed at a military outpost. This incident has sparked concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the region and poses a challenge to regional stability and international law.

The Second Thomas Shoal Incident

The incident at the Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin to the Philippines and Ren’ai Jiao to China, occurred on a sandbank that lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Despite the Philippines’ lawful claim to the area, China has repeatedly challenged its presence and intensified harassment of vessels from rival claimants in recent years.

The Philippine military, supported by drone footage and photographs, documented the blockade and subsequent water-cannoning of the supply ships. This action, carried out by the Chinese coast guard, not only hindered the delivery of essential supplies but also posed a significant risk to the safety of the people on board. The Philippine government, backed by the U.S. State Department, condemned the aggressive act, branding it a violation of international law.

China’s Provocative Actions and Rejection of Arbitration

China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has not only impacted the Philippines but has also been a cause of concern and challenge for neighboring countries with competing territorial claims in recent years. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Indonesia have all faced similar challenges to their maritime sovereignty as Beijing continues to expand its military presence and assert its dominance in the region. The ongoing standoffs in the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal are just one example of the many flashpoints that have emerged as a result of these overlapping claims.