A China Coast Guard vessel patrols the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro
A China Coast Guard vessel patrols the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Photo: Reuters / Erik De Castro

Until the US keeps itself out of other nations’ affairs, China’s growing foothold in disputed territories will not go away. With US intervention strongly in play in the Pacific, the Beijing Politburo has every reason to pursue its interests with profound aggression in the world’s biggest flashpoint.

Back in 2012, rock formations just over 120 nautical miles off the Philippine province of Zambales became an integral part of China’s moves toward solidifying its hold on the high seas. A miscalculated judgment by the Philippine government gave away Bajo de Masinloc, known in the West as Scarborough Shoal, to Beijing after an intense naval standoff in the area.

Six years after that incident, Manila is still looking for a way to resolve its predicament by reacquiring the shoal. However, it is highly unlikely that Scarborough Shoal will be under the Philippine Navy’s watch any time soon.

Even with Filipino politicians from all sides drumming up initiatives to get back the shoal, the only guarantee in sight is that Beijing is a step closer to the Philippines’ doorstep. If there is any consolation, it should be quite comforting to know that Filipino fishermen are allowed back inside the area to make a living even with the imposed Chinese restrictions around.

Still, it is heartbreaking to see China’s naval and coast-guard ships in full control at Bajo de Masinloc, but there is one thing that must be understood at this point. The Philippines is a major pawn in a high-stakes game for global supremacy.

Primarily, Manila should be cautious in pursuing its objectives. Considering the fact that the nation is longtime US ally, it is natural for an emerging superpower like China to institute countermeasures to protect its realm. After all, it cannot be denied that, geographically, the Philippines is strategically relevant to US interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

Second, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s warm and cordial relations with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are a welcome development but not enough to straighten out the predicament at Scarborough. The truth is, Manila is yet to gain Beijing’s trust.

For far too long, the Philippines has been a US colony. It still is up to this day. This is something that China is very cautious about. While a very positive and promising gesture, the ploy the current Philippine administration is pursuing with China may not be taken seriously by Beijing. After all, Manila is involved with numerous Western dealings.

As of late, it can be projected that the Philippines will be a buffer on both fronts. The US will unmask its wizardry in getting the upper hand against China through the Philippines and other Asian nations.

China, on the other hand, will have its hands full in repelling perceived intrusions into its sphere of influence. With this in mind, it is likely that Bajo de Masinloc is in the forefront of this geopolitical play, which is why there will be no changing of the guard at the shoal in the near future.

Brian Ang

Brian Ang hails from Davao City in the Philippines. He is a former analyst for the Philippine government. Considering his interest in geopolitical affairs, he continues to assess and to write articles on the subject.

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