Even as President Joe Biden assures us that the People’s Republic of China is nothing to worry about, the communist superpower is bearing down on a key United States ally in the Pacific.
China’s gunboat diplomacy is not relying on a few ships to push our allies around either, but an armada of over 200 vessels thought to be part of the country’s maritime militia.
The flotilla was first spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard on March 7, according to The Associated Press, around the area of the Whitsun Reef, a shallow formation in an oceanic area claimed by multiple countries.
The Philippine island of Palawan, some 200 miles from the contested reef, appears to give Manila the most legitimate claim to the fish-rich area.
Nearly 400 miles in the other direction lies Vietnam, another claimant to the reef. Over 650 miles to the north sits the final self-proclaimed owner of the area, China.
While China appears to have the weakest claim to the area, the nation also boasts the largest navy and a numerically and technologically superior fighting force.
Now, it’s putting those deadly advantages to use in trying to strong-arm its way into position as the region’s unquestioned power.
Although China maintains that the hundreds of ships suspiciously perched near the reef are fishing vessels, experts have cast major doubt on that claim.
Comparing the “fishing” boats to silhouettes of other Chinese designs, it quickly becomes apparent that these seemingly harmless boats are something much more sinister.
Andrew Erickson, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, pointed out that these boats seem identical to Chinese militia ships.
Quack, quack, quack…
Do those ~220 #BlueHulls look strangely familiar?
Double check #Sansha City #MaritimeMilitia section in latest #China #Recce #Poster from Office of #Naval #Intelligence:https://t.co/ka9rIKT9Jq#WhitsunReef #JulianFelipeReef#ĐáBaĐầu
Niu’eJiao #牛轭礁 https://t.co/7M1FyfPNmW pic.twitter.com/INKtpBpQdV
— Andrew Erickson 艾立信 (@AndrewSErickson) March 22, 2021
The apparent militia ships are allegedly part of the forces of the so-called Sansha City, a loose collection of islands in the South China Sea all claimed by the communist power.
According to Erickson, the ships are quasi-militarized vessels with water cannons and hulls designed for ramming. The ships, ostensibly on fishing voyages, then embed themselves like ticks around Chinese-claimed territory.
But while China is intent on claiming every bit of undefended reef in their neighboring sea, the Philippines are not so keen to see communists set up shop only a couple hundred miles from its shores.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Philippine Navy has begun “sovereignty patrols” through the area using warships designed for combat, not deception.
While the confrontation has not erupted in violence yet, China’s increasing aggression could mean that it’s only a matter of time before its passive-aggressive strategy is replaced with a more active one.
For now, China is kept in check by a United States Navy that is still invested in the Pacific and an array of countries wary of the growing communist threat.
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