To counter China's escalating actions in the South China Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard inaugurated a new surveillance facility on Thitu Island, a disputed territory occupied by Filipino forces. Philippines National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, along with other officials, flew to the island on an Air Force plane to lead the opening ceremony.
Speaking to reporters post-ceremony, Ano stated, "It’s no longer a gray zone. It’s pure bullying," highlighting the Philippines' heightened stance against China's aggressive actions in the region.
The recently constructed two-storey centre, equipped with radar, ship tracking, and monitoring tools, is set to closely observe China's activities in the disputed South China Sea. The facility, either already equipped or scheduled for additional installations early next year, aims to monitor a range of issues, including sea accidents, in the highly contested waters.
This move comes as confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships have escalated throughout the year, leading to minor but concerning collisions near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by a Filipino marine contingent, particularly in October.
The maritime confrontations on the high seas have heightened concerns about a potential larger conflict that may draw in the United States. The U.S. has consistently cautioned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its longest-standing treaty ally in Asia, in the event of an armed attack, including incidents involving Filipino forces, ships, and aircraft in the South China Sea.
Heightened confrontations at sea have raised concerns about a potential larger conflict that may draw in the United States. The U.S. has consistently issued warnings, emphasizing its commitment to defend the Philippines—its longest-standing treaty ally in Asia—in the event of an armed attack, including incidents involving Filipino forces, ships, and aircraft in the South China Sea.
China has accused the U.S. of interfering in an Asian dispute and fostering discord in the region. During a visit to Thitu Island, Philippines National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, using a mounted telescope, identified at least 18 suspected Chinese militia ships near Thitu, including a Chinese navy vessel.
Local residents mention being accustomed to the presence of Chinese ships at a distance from Thitu, but some express lingering concerns about the possibility of Chinese forces intruding onto the island in the future.
“I can’t avoid thinking sometimes that they would suddenly barge into our territory,” said Daisy Cojamco, a 51-year-old mother of three whose husband works as a town government employee.
Thitu Island, shaped like a tadpole and known as Pag-asa, is surrounded by white beaches. Home to about 250 Filipino villagers, it is one of nine islands occupied by Philippine forces in the South China Sea's Spratlys archipelago since the 1970s. Situated under the western island province of Palawan, the Philippines claims it as its most remote offshore township, offering incentives like free rice to encourage settlement. Despite improvements like internet access, cellphone connectivity, and enhanced infrastructure, Thitu remains modest compared to the Chinese-built Subi island, located over 22 kilometers (14 miles) away.
China's transformation of submerged reefs into missile-protected island bases, including Subi, has raised concerns among South China Sea claimant states. Philippine aircraft and ships visiting Thitu routinely face Chinese warnings to stay away, countered by Filipino radio messages asserting territorial rights. The Philippines, faced with China's military might, expands its US military presence and conducts joint patrols with the US and Australia. Despite warnings from China, the Philippines, under President Marcos, deepened security ties with the US and allies, emphasizing its commitment to defend territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Image source: First Post