As a dispute over Chinese fishing boats in waters claimed by the Philippines heats up, the US is rushing to capitalize on the situation, painting China as a threat and sending naval forces to the region. Amid the rancor, Manila and Beijing are attempting to springboard finalization of the long-discussed code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Since early March, some 220 Chinese fishing boats have been tied together in a formation off the coast of Whitsun Reef, a V-shaped island in the Spratly Islands that is claimed by the Philippines as well as China and Vietnam. China has claimed the boats are sheltering from bad weather. Manila has asked them to leave, and begun lodging daily protests with Beijing over their continued presence.
Washington has long postured as the global policeman and enforcer of international law, including challenging China’s claims over islands in the South China Sea. Amid this dispute, the United States has shifted a carrier strike group and amphibious ready group, each headed by an aircraft carrier, into the South China Sea.