Philippines-China standoff could spin out of hand


European cartographers named Scarborough Shoal as “Bajo Scarburo” in this 1820 map from the book “Mapping the Philippines: The Spanish Period.”

MANILA, Philippines — It started like many other minor confrontations over the specks of isles dotting some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. But the risks in the latest flare-up over a South China Sea shoal are much bigger than the territory itself.

Armed vessels from the Philippines and its much more powerful neighbor, China, have faced off for two weeks at the horseshoe-shaped Scarborough Shoal. Either side could miscalculate — and consequences could bear down on the whole region, and drag in the US too.

Here’s a look at the key players, issues and what’s at stake:


The Philippine navy says it caught Chinese fishermen poaching, and on April 10 two Chinese vessels moved in to protect them. The fishing boats slipped away, leaving behind a tense standoff with each side hoping the other will pull out first.


The shoal is among 200 islands, coral outcrops and banks spread over the South China Sea, with rich fishing grounds and other resources. The biggest of them are the Spratlys, claimed all or in part by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

There have been sporadic shootouts at sea in the past few decades — China-Vietnam, China-Philippines, Taiwan-Vietnam and Philippines-Vietnam — with navies sinking ships and fortifying disputed islands. A major clash in 1988 between China and Vietnam killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers. China took over the Philippine-occupied Mischief Reef in a surprise mini-invasion in 1995.

Then in 2002, all parties agreed to a status quo.

It largely held. Until now.

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  • Bulagas

    well if pnoy is out dating grace lee… don’t worry we won’t have anyone leading when the chinese attack the shoal and maybe zambales and palawan…

    then after the invasion is over, pwenoy will be seen smiling and nodding and being his mongoloid self like nothing tragic happened…… stupid mother packer

    • Marlou Wang

       foook you, the pres is not with her 24 hours a day!

    • rem1911

      Mukhang naglabasan na naman ang mga paid bloggers, hindi po si Pnoy ang topic dito…get a life please…The issue of our national sovereignty is beyond politics so please do not try to inject your paid comments. Find another article to read…

    • Lila

       ang hirap sayo.. ugok ka.. lahat mali sa ibang tao pero sa sarili wala.. punta ka sa EDSA at magpa-sagasa..

  • PinasK0ngMahal

    Ramos gave way to the Lost of mischief reef so that the AFP modernization plan be approved by the congress and more money for corruption. Such is the sorry state of our leaders!

  • quphal

    pwede nang alisin ang word na “could” sa title dahil this will definitely get out of control dahil wala daw panahon ang tsina sa diplomatic solution instead they would and they are using their power and might to resolve this.
    isa lang masasabi naming mga pilipino sa iyo china: THE BIGGER YOU ARE, THE HARDER YOU FALL!!

    • Marlou Wang


  • Mary

    The Philippines should not give up in trying to solve the Scarborough issue with China through diplomatic means. We cannot go to war with China because we are not capable of engaging them in war. China does not want diplomatic way because they know that they are the one intruding our territorial water. What now? Though the Philippines is the offended party, it should be aggressive in finding solution to this problem in a peaceful way.     

    • edgar

      any suggestion?

      • Lila

         correct ka dyan.. suggestion please???? solution please????

      • Sober_One

        GOP is already bent on bringing the issue to be resolved at the International Tribunal. This is a very smart move to establish legitimacy of our claim. While all diplomatic means are being exhausted, a military defensive strategy to protect our territorial sovereignty over Panatag Shoal should be in place. And when China starts the shooting war (which is more likely to happen), then we will unleash that strategy. I really believe that a superior strategy, not superior resources will win a war. That’s why I really put so much premium and primary importance of developing a superior military defensive strategy for PH. And I know it can be done if we learn some lessons in military history from the ancient times to the modern era.

      • Zero Sum Analyst

        maintain the position of our coast guard ships and eventually establish a full blockade. the coast guard should avoid making the first shot, AT ALL COST. because on a ship-per-ship basis, our coast guard cannot possibly win. however, by creating an impasse long enough, the global perception will shift and realize how dangerous a threat the “Dragon” is. at this point, table-diplomacy should be the first option, not the alternative gunboat diplomacy. both sides SHOULD resolve this with an amicable compromise, but NEVER by surrendering scarborough. remember the Paracel Islands in Vietnam? that same scenario should not be repeated. the strategy now is ‘Wear-N-Wear’, not ‘Wear-N-Tear’. the first one that blinks loses an eye, that’s for sure. in this case, an ‘island’ or shoal. eventually, ASEAN countries might smarten up and change its stance from being a fence-sitter into an arbiter, or peacemaker. but at this point, our country should FIRMLY HOLD ITS GROUND.

      • Bom

         kiss the big fat @ss of uncle sam and call on the MDT for defense..philippines is like a grown up man but still with diapers..LOL..

      • Voltaire

        employ Area Denial/anti Access defense strategy.
          While letting  Communist China believe that Philippines is incapable to  fight back, Philippines should quietly arm itself, making sure that its preparations are hidden from communist chinese spies. 

        To defeat the chinese communist agressors,

        Phase I
        1.  Deploy accurate, long range, surface-surface (anti-ship) cruise missiles in the western, northern and eastern coasts of Palawan and Luzon,  that is capable of blowing out of the West Philippine Sea any chinese ship. (possible sources of these missiles are South Korea, US, Israel, France).  This is the first line of defense. 

        2. After taking out the chinese agressor ships with the cruise missiles, launch a swarm of UAV drones to overwhelm any remaining resistance from the chinese communist vessels.

        3. Deploy at least 9 fast attack submarines to harass and block any chinese communist naval reinforcements.

        4.  Implant naval mines on probable chinese communist approach routes.

         Phase II.
        1. Launch at least 9 squadrons of naval strike aircraft to prevent the chinese communist ships that survived the missiles, from escaping back to china.

        2. All these operations will be covered and protected by at least 15 squadrons of
        air -superiority jet aircraft and equivalent number of  surface to air missile batteries.

        Phase III
        1. When all the chinese communist ships are destroyed,  the newly refurbished Philippine Navy ships should then sweep the entire West Philippine sea and clear
        it up and eliminate any remaining chinese communist invader.  

  • kapitanvic1

    Everything that is happening in the area considered by China as part of it’s nine dash line which demarcates just about the entire South China Sea is part of the Grand Plan to make it China’s “Saudi Arabia” for lots of years to come. We all know including China that it is in violation of international law specifically the UNCLOS but China will not allow anybody to stand in it’s way.

  • BURADOR—Phil. Voice

    China is to BLAME if this STAND-OFF if escalates——CHINA knew it—-
    Philippines COULD´T just CLOSE its EYES while Chinese POACHERS RAPE SCARBURO shoals with the PROTECTION of chinese government——
    CHINAs REJECTION of SOLVING the conflict through INTERNATIONAL LAW shows its BULLYING behavior——-
    In the old days—CHINA used to BULLIED India on HIMALAYAN territories——-India WOKE-up and BUILT its MILITARY with atomic BOMBS and MISSILS——China STOP the BULLYING—–and RESPECT India instead——
    In this HUMILIATION inflicted with China—-Its TIME for Philippines to THINK TWICE——-
    Philippines Geography with RICH resources is a Magnet for GREEDY neighbors—
    THINK about THAT—

  • joboni96

    ‘China took over the Philippine-occupied Mischief Reef in a surprise mini-invasion in 1995′

    u.s. did not lift a finger then

    di pa tayo kailangan noon
    i contain ang tsina

    • PinasK0ngMahal

      Not really because US didnt want to help but because the Ramos govt allowed it to happen so that the AFP Modernization Law be passed by the congress. Such is the greed of our corrupt leaders, giving up mischief reef for money to be corrupted.

    • boyfarmer

       In 1991 the so called magnificent 12 rejected the extension of the stay of the US base in Subic, masama pa ang loob ng USA during that time in 1995 when china took away mischief reef from the Philippines. It should have been a warning for the Philippines to modernize our Armed forces but we didn’t.

      Wag na tayong pumayag na maagawan pang muli.

      • joboni96

        and beware of fair weather friends
        na nagpahirap din sa atin > u.s.

        tuloy ang pagpalakas ng depensa
        lalo pag alis ng defeatist colonized utak

        sabi nga sun tzu
        pag talo utak natin
        siguradong talo na tayo

  • PHtaxpayer

    The PH govt also practically neglected our claim to the islands by not reinforcing and repairing structures after storms and implementing livelihood infrastructure for our fisherfolk to use the area.  Instead we blame the Chinese for doing exactly what we should have been doing.

  • Jon

    How I wish the government could stop telegraphing its moves.
    Obviously, we cannot match China militarily but this does not mean that we should let them know about our capabilities and intentions.
    If our only option is diplomacy, then our back-channeling efforts should also be held discreetly.
    It just doesn’t make sense to tell the Chinese what we’re up to.

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