China has recently increased its military presence in the South China Sea and is competing for fishing resources. As a result, experts are worried that the South China Sea will become China’s internal sea if countries in the region, like the Philippines, are not alert.

In the latest move, last Thursday, October 6, the Philippine Coast Guard conducted an aerial surveillance operation on Scarborough Shoal. Four Chinese Coast Guard were spotted during the operation. 

They did not have a confrontation, as with many other events in the disputed waters. However, Philippine maritime affairs expert Patumbako believes that Beijing’s expansion near the Scarborough Shoal has become more visible in the past few years.

Scarborough Shoal consists of two rocks in a shoal located within the Philippine EEZ in the South China Sea. Its closest landmass is Luzon, an island in the Philippines. The shoal is claimed by China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Actually, since 2013, China has expelled Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal. In a few cases, the Chinese coast guard directly rammed Filipino boats, making them stay far away. 

The Chinese also sent out fishing boats to compete with the Filipinos in a destructive overfishing manner. As a result, the Philippine Coast Guard had to remain in these areas to help ease their fishermen and give them some sense of safety. 

Greg Poling is the head of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. 

Poling said that the sea could become a “Chinese lake” as China uses various forces to drive out Southeast Asian fishermen, oil and gas companies, and the coast guard.

Those forces include deadly force to back its claims and recent war games around Taiwan. 

According to John Blaxland, international security and intelligence expert, China would force you to give in without any actual fighting by intimidation, such as through being shrill about their protestations or through wolf warrior diplomacy.

Patumbako is an expert on maritime affairs in the Philippines. At the same time, Wu Anping, also known as Jan Robert R Go, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. They both agree with the “Chinese lake” theory.

In 2016, The Hague’s international arbitration court gave a landmark ruling dismissing China’s claims to the South China Sea, giving the Philippines a win. But China ignored the order. According to Professor Wu Anping, although the Philippines issued a statement stressing the ruling in July during its 6th anniversary, Manila could not be neglectful. It must be resolute because China maintains an authoritarian manner with its self-claimed “nine-dash line” proposal. 

The nine-dash line is a set of line segments on maps that set out the Chinese claims on almost all of the South China Sea.

Professor Wu told VOA that the Chinese Lake prediction would become a reality if China could pursue its interests in the South China Sea unchallenged. 

Sharing the same view, maritime expert Patumbako believes that Manila has not done enough to dispel China’s frequent strengthening of its military deployment in recent years. The trend is heading towards a potential “Chinese lake.”
He said that China wants to control the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Over the years, China has built artificial islands, increased its maritime activity and presence, and deployed all kinds of weapons, radars, and sensors to the region. He said that the threat of a Chinese Lake is entirely possible.

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