China dispatches forces to monitor U.S.-Philippines air patrol in contested waters

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20th February 2024 – (Beijing) The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has reported deploying units to the contentious South China Sea, keenly observing the latest joint U.S.-Philippines air patrol this Monday. The move marks a second such collaboration in February, escalating tensions in a region already simmering with disputes.

The patrol, conducted by the air forces of both allied nations, swept across the western Philippines, dubbed a “maritime cooperative activity.” China has condemned the Philippines’ actions as provocative, suggesting that Manila is entangling “non-regional countries” to incite discord in the South China Sea, while deliberately amplifying the patrols’ profile without explicitly naming the United States.

In a stern response, the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command, which supervises the South China Sea domain, asserted on Monday evening that it had dispatched naval and air contingents to meticulously monitor the situation. The command reassured that it maintained “under control” conditions and stood ready to “uphold a high state of alert,” safeguarding national sovereignty and ensuring regional tranquillity.

The Philippine Air Force detailed the despatch of three FA-50 fighters, while the U.S. Pacific Air Forces contributed a B-52H bomber to the patrol, as confirmed by the Philippine Air Force via social media.

The episode underscores deepening rifts between Beijing and Manila, especially after the Philippines’ recent allegations against China of hampering resupply missions within its exclusive economic zone. Beijing has retorted by accusing Philippine vessels of unlawfully breaching its territory.

Tensions have been further stoked by encounters near Second Thomas Shoal, leading Manila to contemplate establishing permanent structures there—a move Beijing warns would provoke a “resolute response.”

Amid these strained ties, allegations from the Philippines have surfaced, accusing Chinese fishermen of employing cyanide in fishing practices at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, an act banned for its detrimental impact on marine ecosystems. China’s foreign ministry has dismissed these claims as “fabricated,” emphasizing China’s commitment to environmental protection.

The South China Sea, rich in resources and of strategic significance, is a hotbed of international contestation, with China asserting sovereignty based on the historical “nine-dash line.” However, regional nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam, dispute these claims.