Philippines' public disclosures make China's 'gray zone' operations less effective — think tank

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Philippines' public disclosures make China's 'gray zone' operations less effective � think tank
This handout photo taken on March 27, 2021 and received from the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) via the Philippine Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on March 31, 2021 shows Chinese vessels anchored at Whitsun Reef, some 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island in the South China Sea.
AFP / Philippine Communications Operations Office / National Task Force-West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government's move to publicize China's maritime militia deployments in the West Philippine Sea was effective in countering the latter's 'gray zone' operations, a Washington-based think tank said.

Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) noted how Manila's publicity campaign, along with international followup, resulted in most Chinese vessels leaving Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef.

The AMTI noted that the complete identification of maritime militia is "not only possible, but likely."

"And if the militia can be identified and mapped in its entirety, with its motives and methods widely knows, it will lose its effectiveness as a gray zone force," AMTI said in its report titled "Pulling Back the Curtain on China's Maritime Militia."

Gray zone operations refer to those that lie between diplomacy and warfare. 

In March, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea disclosed that 220 Chinese maritime militia ships were spotted anchored in formation in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef.

After this, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. demanded that Beijing immediately withdraw their vessels.

The Department of Foreign Affairs even filed diplomatic protests each day that the Chinese ships remained in the area.

Implications of identifying ships

"In the end, the Whitsun Reef deployment had unique implications for both the public knowledge of China's maritime militia and the future of monitoring gray zone operations in the South China Sea," AMTI said.

AMTI noted how the Philippine government's report led to identifying 103 Chinese maritime militia vessels through onsite photos and ship-to-ship automatic identification system (AIS).

According to the AMTI report, Vietnamese witnesses also provided Chinese militia activity, which would have been "impossible to discover otherwise."

The think tank said regional actors, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, play an "indispensable role" in identifying and publicizing China's maritime militia deployments.

"By exposing ongoing gray zone operations with video, photographic, and other convincing evidence, regional actors can create opportunities for others to join them in support of international rules and norms," the AMTI said.

While militaries and law enforcement agencies usually tend to keep such information rather than making it public, the Julian Felipe Reef incident showed that releasing information may be an advantage, the think tank said.

"They can simultaneously reduce the effectiveness of misinformation that is released to distract from or explain away ongoing events. And by doing so, they can impose reputational costs on Beijing for its use of these paramilitary actors," the report read.

The AMTI report said some 300 militia vessels operate in disputed areas in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

While the West Philippine Sea is no longer disputed following the July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China's expansive maritime claims, Beijing continues to reject the landmark award.

China has since deployed hundreds of militia, coast guard and navy ships in various areas in the West Philippine Sea.

This report was released just as the Locsin revealed that three Chinese coast guard vessels "blocked and water-cannoned" two Philippine boats on a supply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

"The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal. China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off," Locsin said in a statement.

vuukle comment





  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with