MANILA - China's latest incursion in the West Philippine Sea can lead to a repeat of the 2012 standoff in the Scarborough Shoal, an analyst warned Tuesday.
"This might be Scarborough Shoal all over again. We see the pattern happening, waiting for this opportunity, swarming technique. Basically, preventing us from being able to react because we are overwhelmed by the number of Chinese fishing vessels, Coast Guard vessels and in the backdrop, the People's Liberation Army Navy," international studies professor Renato De Castro of the De La Salle University told ANC.
Scarborough, called by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China.
The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers. It prompted the Philippine government to drag Beijing to an international tribunal to invalidate the Asian power’s expansive claims to the sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines but Beijing has refused to honor its decision.
China has since built artificial islands in the Scarborough Shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales and is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
For De Castro, he described the Philippines as "fair game" in China's aggressive maritime agenda in the South China Sea.
"We happened to be weak. We don't have a powerful navy nor of course, a government courageous enough to stand up against China. So, we are fair game," he said.
De Castro said the current administration didn't learn from history that appeasing China doesn't work.
"Basically, the great powers would see appeasement as an indication of weakness and that was basically what the Duterte administration has basically broadcasted to China since 2016 and in the process, also distanced ourselves from our only treaty ally, the United States," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte forged friendlier ties with China since assuming office in 2016, shelving the maritime disputes in favor of economic aid and investments from the world's second largest economy.
Around 200 Chinese vessels have been monitored since March 7 at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, an incursion that Manila has formally protested against and several countries have sounded alarm on.
Philippine officials have demanded the withdrawal of the ships, with a retired Supreme Court judge warning their presence may be a prelude to occupation and building of a naval base as China did on Mischief Reef in 1995.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had denied allegations the vessels are part of Beijing's militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.