Philippines Protests China's Moves in South China Sea Dozens of Times

Officials in the Philippines have protested Chinese actions in the South China Sea over four dozen times in just over two months, according to a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, a sign that friction over competing maritime claims hasn't abated despite a change in government in Manila.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and its various islands within its so-called "nine-dash line," a claim that is disputed by several countries, including the Philippines. A growing number of Chinese naval and coast guard vessels have helped Beijing assertively challenge the claims of its neighbors in recent years.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who was elected president of the Philippines in May and assumed office in June, has already signed off on 52 formal diplomatic protests against China in 72 days, Bloomberg said.

Teresita Daza, a spokesperson for the Philippine foreign affairs department, said the protests related to China's "incursions" and "illegal presence" in the South China Sea, where the two nations have overlapping claims to a number of maritime features, and where Manila has complained of frequent Chinese research activity in its exclusive economic zone.

In recent years, disputes between the two countries have revolved around Second Thomas Shoal, part of the contested Spratly Islands, where the Philippines maintains a scuttled warship as an outpost, manned by a small contingent of marines. Chinese coast guard vessels have been accused of firing water cannons on resupply boats.

Marcos Jr., 65, continues predecessor Rodrigo Duterte's balancing act of managing relations with China, its largest trading partner, despite lingering disputes in the busy waters, and with the United States, its second-largest trading partner and defense treaty ally.

Manila's 52 protests so far were considered intensive; Duterte's government lodged 388 total protests over the course of his six-year term, Bloomberg said.

Philippines Lodges Dozens Of Protests Against China
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines speaks during a change of command ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo on August 8, 2022, in Quezon, Manila. Marcos Jr.’s government has lodged dozens of protests against Chinese actions in the South China Sea in just over two months in office. AFP via Getty Images/EZRA ACAYAN/POOL

Tensions between the Philippines and China came to a head in 2012 during the standoff over Scarborough Shoal, a chain of reefs and rocks that were wrested from Manila's control by the Chinese navy.

The Philippines took China to court in The Hague after the incident. However, six years after the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in Manila's favor in Philippines v. China ,Beijing continues to reject the verdict.

At the time of the Scarborough Shoal standoff, former President Barack Obama backed Manila's position but did little to deter Beijing from taking control of the rock.

In 2019, the administration of former President Donald Trump clarified that "any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations" under the mutual defense treaty—a position reaffirmed by President Joe Biden's administration.

Potential geopolitical implications mean Beijing has built no structures on Scarborough Shoal, unlike other islands it controls, but China maintains a constant coast guard presence nearby to enforce its claim.

China insists the South China Sea dispute is to be solved by claimants only, and not external parties. Many of its neighbors, including the Philippines, look to the U.S. for security assistance as they try to balance the growing Chinese power.