China and the Philippines: A complex and multifaceted issue with huge economic and security implications

The main issue revolves around competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. China claims almost the entire sea based on its “nine-dash line” map, which overlaps with the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and territorial waters of other countries, including the Philippines. This has led to disputes over the control of islands, reefs and shoals, such as the Spratly Islands.

The South China Sea is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas and fisheries. The overlapping territorial claims have resulted in competing efforts to exploit these resources, which naturally has led to tensions and conflicts. China’s assertive actions, such as constructing artificial islands and deploying military assets, have raised concerns among neighbouring countries, including the Philippines.

Add to this that the South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, crucial to trade and the Philippines, along with other countries, with raised concerns about China’s excessive maritime claims and its actions that restrict freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.

The Philippines brought the dispute with China to an international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), in 2013. In 2016, the PCA ruled in favour of the Philippines, stating that China’s nine-dash line claim had no legal basis under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China, as one might expect, rejected the ruling, asserting that it has historical and legal rights over the disputed areas.

It is to be expected therefore that the South China Sea dispute has implications for regional stability and security. The increased militarisation of the disputed islands by China, and the presence of competing military forces, have raised concerns about the potential for accidental clashes or escalation of conflicts.

This will prompt the Philippines to seek support from allies and strengthen its defence capabilities. 

Conclusion

The key issues between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea revolve around territorial claims, resource exploitation, freedom of navigation, the legal framework, regional stability, and diplomatic efforts. Resolving these issues will necessitate a sustained dialogue and a commitment to peaceful resolution to ensure stability in the region. Judging by current confrontations in the China Sea between the Philippines and the Chinese Navy, this is looking less likely.

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