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Philippines’ Response to Chinese Aggression: Enhancing Islands in the South China Sea

Amid escalating tensions with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines has unveiled ambitious plans to fortify its islands and reefs in the disputed region. In a statement on Monday, Manila’s military chief, Romeo Brawner, outlined the intention to enhance living conditions for troops stationed on these strategic outposts.

Brawner emphasized the significance of improving all nine features, including reefs and islands, currently under Philippine control in the South China Sea. Notably, the Second Thomas Shoal, known locally as Ayungin, and Thitu Island, also called Pag-asa, stand out as key locations in the area.

Located approximately 480km (300 miles) west of Palawan province, Thitu Island holds immense strategic importance for the Philippines. As part of the upgrade plans, the military aims to install a desalination machine on a warship grounded deliberately on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert sovereignty.

“We are committed to enhancing the livability and habitability of these outposts for our soldiers, who currently endure poor living conditions,” emphasized Brawner.

Furthermore, the Philippine military intends to strengthen its capabilities by procuring additional ships, radars, and aircraft, shifting its focus towards territorial defense from internal security.

The South China Sea remains a hotbed of territorial disputes involving Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, each staking claims to various areas in the region. This strategic waterway facilitates trade valued at over $3 trillion annually.

Despite an international tribunal’s ruling in 2017 invalidating China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, Beijing continues to assert its dominance over the region. Recent months have seen heightened tensions between Beijing and Manila, with reports of Chinese ships employing water cannons against Philippine vessels. The seizure of Scarborough Reef by China from the Philippines in 2012 after a prolonged standoff continues to exacerbate tensions in the area.


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