Winter has been a relatively quiet time in the South Pacific as policy priorities shifted in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, but the Philippines’s stated intent to depart the U.S. defense pact may destabilize the regional balance yet again.
Doug Stephens IV is a joint JD/LLM student at Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge. He holds a B.A. in English from Liberty University and a M.A. in English from James Madison University.
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After a summer of dramatic standoffs in the South China Sea, the past month has seen a return to diplomacy and negotiation in Southeast Asian relations.
A tense standoff in the waters southwest of Vietnam is about to enter its seventh week. Throughout May and June, Chinese Coast Guard vessels aggressively patrolled around Malaysian and Vietnamese oil drilling platforms.
In the first weeks of May, U.S. vessels have been busy all over the South China Sea, drawing China’s ire and frustration. From May 2 to May 8, the destroyer USS William P. Lawrence joined ships from the Philippines, India and Japan in transiting through the South China Sea, performing formation exercises and other low-profile drills during the voyage.
Tensions around the contested island of Thitu (Tagalog: Pag-asa; Chinese: Zhongye) are escalating as China and the Philippines continue to press their claims. In March, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and other observers counted up to 275 Chinese vessels near Thitu, up from December’s high of 95.