Chinese boats stir Philippine anxieties

While Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte plays down reports that China has occupied another contested land feature in the South China Sea, his defense establishment is calling for a tougher stance
“Why should I defend a sandbar and kill Filipinos because of a sandbar?” declared Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte when asked about reports suggesting China has sought to occupy a land feature (Sandy Cay) close to the Philippine-occupied island of Thitu in the South China Sea.
The Filipino president again brushed aside the necessity for and wisdom of confronting Beijing on the issue, insisting that China is, “just there but they are not claiming anything,” and that the Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua, “assured me that they will not build anything there.”
Prominent political figures, however, have rung alarm bells over what they see as a creeping Chinese ‘invasion’ of Philippine-claimed territories in the contested South China Sea.
Security analysts see China’s build-up on the nearby contested Scarborough Shoal as the third vertex of a triangle of emerging Chinese military bases that aims to establish control of the strategic waterway.
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a key architect of the Philippines’ landmark arbitration award against China last year at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, has described China’s latest move as nothing short of an “invasion of Philippine territory.”
The influential magistrate called upon the government to “vigorously protest this invasion of Philippine territory by China” and invoke the country’s mutual defense treaty with America if necessary.
Duterte has blown hot and cold on strategic ties with the US, witnessed in the downgrading of recent joint military exercises known historically to concern China.