There appeared to be a thaw in ties between China and the Philippines after a PLA Navy warship made a friendly port call in Manila. However, with the Philippines now welcoming tourists to the disputed Spratly Islands, that could almost be expected to change.
The Spratly Islands comprise over 100 tiny islets and reefs encircled by abundant fishing grounds and perhaps gas and oil resources. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim the entire group of islands, while Malaysia and the Philippines each claim a section of them.
The islands the Philippines claims are located in the northeastern Spratly archipelago, which locals call the ‘Kalayaan Island Group’ of the West Philippine Sea. This is where Manila has seized the opportunity to bolster its claims by opening the disputed islet to tourism.
The Great Kalayaan or Freedom Expedition is a seven-day excursion onboard a dive yacht, with an average price per participant of around US$2,000. “The Great Kalayaan Expedition aims to open the vast West Philippine Sea for tourism,” tour organizer Ken Hupanda told Channel News Asia.
This first paid trip saw a Chinese Coast Guard ship and other Chinese-owned vessels, giving the tour participants a first-hand view of China’s maritime might, something they weren’t expecting.
Later, Chief Engineer Wilfredo Baladjay of the yacht received an automated message from a Philippine telecom company welcoming him to China as they anchored at Philippine-controlled Thitu, also known locally as Pagasa or Hope Island.
Almost frustrated by the continuous Chinese presence and assertiveness, Baladjay said, “I cannot accept why the island’s connection is with China. (Pagasa) is the Philippines. Why did it become China?” Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy force stationed in Thitu continuously pressed the Chinese ship to leave the area.
While the incident may have felt unsettling to these first-time tourists, the engagements between the Philippines and Chinese coast guard vessels are not uncommon. The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) has reported several incidents of intimidation by their Chinese peers.
Source : Eurasiantimes