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China Imposes A Blockade
by James Dunnigan
April 16, 2014

China told the Philippines that the continued presence of Filipino marines on Second Thomas Reef is intolerable and that China will deal with this violation of Chinese sovereignty. This is how China warns victims that an attack is coming and the Philippines is asking the United States for some backup here. The U.S. condemned the Chinese blockade but it is unclear what more the U.S. will do. The next step appears to be a tight blockade of the Filipino garrison to starve them out, as Chinese civilian and military ships blocked two recent efforts by Filipino supply ships to deliver food and water to the small garrison on Second Thomas Reef. The supplies were eventually air dropped, but that might also face interference and all this might be preparations to an outright assault by Chinese troops. Resupply by air is expensive and uncertain during bad weather. For the last year China has been increasing pressure on the Philippines to remove small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. In particular the Chinese want this detachment stationed on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre) removed. The Filipino navy deliberately grounded the LST on Second Thomas Reef in 1999 to provide a place for an observation team. In 2013 Chinese patrol ships came within nine kilometers of the LST, which China insists is there illegally. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against the grounded ship. The initial response from China was constructing more buildings (on stilts) on nearby Mischief Reef (which is only 126 kilometers from the Philippines’ Palawan Island). Second Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point.  Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate.



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