Over the last month and a half, seven significant developments indicate that tensions in the South China Sea are set to rise in both the short and long term. The five short-term trends include: Philippine defiance of China’s fishing ban; continued inaction by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the Chinese navy’s repeated assertions of sovereignty over James Shoal; the possibility of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea; and stronger United States opposition to China’s ADIZ and maritime territorial claims.
First, in January, the Philippines stepped up its public defiance of China and its territorial claims in the South China Sea. On January 15, Emmanuel Bautista, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, stated in a television interview with respect to new fishing regulations issued by Hainan province that Filipino fisherman should not give in to threats or intimidation. A day later, Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin stated that the Philippines would disregard Hainan province’s new fishing regulations and would provide escorts to Filipino fishermen in the West Philippines Sea “if necessary.”
On January 17, the local media published aerial reconnaissance photographs taken at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) on August 28, 2013. The photographs showed the presence of two People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships, including a frigate, and a Coast Guard vessel. The press quoted from a confidential government report that stated the Chinese naval presence “could be part [of] a renewed and possibly more determined effort to remove Philippine military presence on Ayungin Shoal and from the whole Spratly island group.”