Expert: Only a matter of time before China escalates actions in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — An international security expert expects China to soon escalate its actions in the South China Sea, with the end goal of taking control over most parts of the contested waters

On Sept. 8, the Philippines successfully completed its resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, but not without another attempt by the China Coast Guard (CCG) to block the operations. Chinese vessels conducted “dangerous maneuvers” and exhibited “aggressive conduct,” separating the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships from the resupply boats. 

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday, international studies professor Renato de Castro said this will still be a long game.

“It’s simply a matter of time when the Chinese would later escalate the game,” he added, noting that China’s goal is to have absolute control over 85% of the South China Sea.

He said he does not know how China will escalate its actions, but De Castro noted that the recently deployed ships of the CCG have gun turrets which may be used to threaten Philippine vessels.

The CCG previously fired a water cannon on PCG vessels during an Aug. 5 resupply mission to Ayungin in the West Philippine Sea — a part of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims. The action, together with CCG's dangerous maneuvers, put the safety of Filipino personnel aboard at risk, officials said.

De Castro added that China is also testing how the United States will react to the situation, “playing a game of chicken” against long-time allies Manila and Washington.

A US Navy plane was also spotted during the Sept. 8 resupply mission. PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tarriela said in a separate interview that the coast guard did not have any coordination with Washington regarding this.

Whether there was coordination or not, De Castro said this was the US' way of testing and showing to China that “we don’t recognize your expansive claim in the South China Sea.” Washington may even consider sending a destroyer ship and say “it just happened to be there,” he added.

China also released last month its updated standard map showing 10 dashes that form a U shape, claiming nearly the entire South China Sea as part of its territory. The area overlaps with the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the Philippines as well as those of Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

READ: PH rejects, protests China’s expanded 10-dash line in South China Sea

De Castro said this shows the East Asian superpower’s ambition and determination to push through with its sweeping maritime claim, so more expansive and aggressive actions are expected.