On Saturday, 50 Filipino protesters landed on Pargasa, an island in the disputed Spratly Archipelago. These individuals are members of an organisation known as Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan: This is Ours) and the majority of them are students. This group plans to remain there for three days and are using their time to highlight growing Chinese encroachment on the Philippine Exclusion Economic Zone. On social media, this organisation described this expedition as a ‘patriotic journey’ which is an act of defiance against growing Chinese influence in the region. While the Philippine government understand the intentions of this group, they opposed this expedition based on safety and security concerns.
Pargasa is a part of the Spratly Archipelago, an island chain located in the heavily disputed South China Sea. China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all have some claim on the South China Sea, in particular the disputed Spratly Archipelago and the Paracels, another chain of islands. This area is considered a major strategic point as it contains an important shipping route, it’s a rich fishing ground and is believed to contain natural resources such as oil and gas. Due to the strategic importance of this region, these countries have all staked a claim on the South China Sea. The continued dispute between these countries has caused tensions in the region.
Of all the claims, China’s has proven to be the most concerning as its behaviour has caused increased tensions in the region. While this tension has been present for some time, it has intensified considerably over the past year due to China’s aggressive island building and its increased naval patrols in the South China Sea. China has been constructing new islands on coral reefs to solidify its claim on the disputed territory. Furthermore, China has dismissed the other claims as it believes that the majority of the territory is rightfully theirs. The Philippines have challenged this view in the arbitration court in The Hague, as some of the territory that China is developing is also claimed by the Philippines. The Philippines have said that China’s nine dash line is unlawful under the UN convention on the Laws of the Sea. However, China has boycotted these proceedings saying that this body does not have the authority to rule in this case.
This issue is important as the outcome will help determine whether or not peace and stability in the region is maintained. If this situation continues to escalate, it is very likely that the South China Sea dispute will disrupt the peace in the region and thus cause a conflict which would harm the people in the region. While this is something that may occur, the fact that there is any potential for it to occur makes it an important issue for the region. It is time that this issue is settled in an appropriate way to ensure that it does not escalate to the point of a conflict. A discussion between the countries who have claimed territory in the South China Sea, mediated by a third party, could help resolve this issue or at least ensure that it does not progress any further. Furthermore, countries and organisations should refrain from actions which can be perceived as threats. It is still unclear whether or not the actions of Kalayaan Atin Ito will provoke a serious response from China but many countries are fearful of such a response.
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