June 6, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11382

All Eyes On The South China Sea

June 6, 2024
China, Philippines | Special Dispatch No. 11382

China represents a threat to U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific, as Beijing's hegemonic and expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea grow. Andrew J. Masigan, Manila-based special advisor to MEMRI's China Media Studies Project, warned that if China is allowed to subsume the South China Sea, then the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would control the bulk of world trade and gain unprecedented economic and military control over the Indo-Pacific region.

Last August 2023, China released a new map that featured a 10-dash line claim to the South China Sea. Describing the outrage prompted by the new map, Channel News Asia wrote: "China's Ministry of Natural Resources on Monday (Aug 28) issued the China Standard Map Edition 2023, which lays claims to large swathes of the South China Sea [that are] also disputed by Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei, as well as several land areas in India [since the map designates India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of China] and Russia.

"China's new map also revives the use of a '10-dash' line – with an additional dash to the east of Taiwan – a break with the usual nine-dash line Beijing has been using in recent years to stake its claims over large swathes of the South China Sea. The map has drawn protests from the Indian, Philippine, and Malaysian governments while Indonesia, though not a claimant-state but [which] has its Natunas within the nine-dash-line, has said it is seeking clarity on the issue."

On August 31, 2023, the Philippines stated: "This latest attempt to legitimize China's purported sovereignty and jurisdiction over Philippine features and maritime zones has no basis under international law." It was also reported that the Philippines demanded that Beijing adhere to The Hague Tribunal's ruling of 2016, which dismissed China's claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea.

In addition, Philippines Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. stressed that the 10-dash line shown in the 2023 edition of Beijing's standard national map is unequivocal proof of its expansionist policy in the South China Sea: "That is proven by the new administrative map where they added another dash line. That is the best evidence of their expansionist agenda – to dominate the whole South China Sea and perhaps beyond."

Teodoro also stated: "China is trying to change, unilaterally unclose, an international law by allowing other countries to submit. By the unilateral claim of the whole of the South China Sea, as its internal waters. Meaning to say, it's converting the South China Sea into a Lake of China. No? And, that is why it is using Coast Guard vessels, which are huge and massive and equivalent to Naval vessels too, to enforce domestic and criminal Chinese law in the whole of the South China Sea. This is part of their illegal narratives, and this is part of their move to unilaterally pound into submission into other countries, to aqueous into their definition of what international law, with respect to the law of the Sea is..."

Recently, as tensions between China and the Philippines increase due to Beijing's aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea (which is a portion of the South China Sea), Philippines Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel "Babe" del Gallego Romualdez also discussed the problem with China's new 10-dash map. He wrote in the media outlet Philippine Star: "Last year, China came out with their so-called standard national map that features a 10-dash-line – one additional dash more than its previous nine-dash line – just a week after Chinese president Xi Jinping said 'hegemonism is not in China's DNA' – which drew protests among nations that include India, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines that rejected the sweeping claim. And as I pointed out during my speaking engagement at the Consular Corps of the Philippines – no one really knows how far China will go in staking its claims in the South China Sea. Previously it was nine, and today it is 10 – then 11, 12? As claimant nations, we can talk about our conflicting claims but we absolutely cannot allow a single country to claim the entire area."

He added: "But while the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy, it does not mean that we will not defend ourselves. We will respond with everything we've got if another country attacks us. And as we modernize our armed forces to achieve a credible defense posture, we take comfort in the wisdom of our past leaders after World War II – the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. Today, there are many other nations that share the same values and recognize that our sovereignty as a nation is indisputable."

Philippine Ambassador to the United States also stated: "Many of us believe the real flashpoint is the West Philippine Sea. The aggression we face today is very real because China will not let up on its over-expansive claims in our territorial waters. With all the dangerous maneuvers that are happening, one major accident could trigger the US or the Philippines to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty – which is why we just have to hope that every morning when President Xi wakes up, he will say, 'today is not the day.'" Indeed, CCP mouthpiece China Daily warned that World War III could break out in the South China Sea, as Beijing is increasingly shifting its attention to the Philippines.

The Philippines and the United States signed a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 1951. The treaty has eight articles and requires both allies to defend each other if another party attacks the Philippines or the United States. Hence, one major accident provoked by China in the West Philippine Sea could trigger the U.S. or the Philippines to invoke the MDT.

During his March 19, 2024, official visit to the Philippines, Secretary of State Blinken said: "We stand with the Philippines and stand by our ironclad defense commitments, including under the mutual defense treaty."

On April 11, 2024, President Joe Biden, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met in Washington, D.C., and discussed the situation in the South China Sea. During the summit, President Joe Biden guaranteed that any attack on a Philippine aircraft, vessel, or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke the MDT.

Below is a collection of MEMRI reports and analyses about China's hegemonic ambitions in the South China Sea.

The following reports and analyses are organized by topic, not by date.

  • China Warns That WWIII May Break Out In The South China Sea
  • China's Hegemonic Ambitions And Militarization of the South China Sea
  • China's Aggression Against The Philippines
  • Pro-CCP Political Forces In The Philippines: The Case Of Duterte
  • The Beginning of A New "Asian NATO"?

The China Coast Guard using a water cannon against a Philippine vessel on April 30, 2024.

China Warns That WWIII May Break Out In The South China Sea

On March 29, 2024, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece China Daily published an article, titled "Manila Must Be Warned Against Horrors Of War," accusing the Philippines of "making provocative moves and engaging in reckless brinkmanship, in an attempt to draw major powers into a conflict."

Chinese Media Outlet Warns That World War III May Break Out In The South China Sea, April 3, 2024.

Media Outlet Philippine Star: 'Many Ways That A War Between China And The United States Could Start; The First Scenario Would Involve The Philippines', March 6, 2024.

Chinese Analyst Gao Zhikai: The U.S. Is Trying To Use The Philippines As A Proxy To Provoke China; This Is A Bad Idea – The Consequences Of War Will Be Severe, December 14, 2023.

Prominent Chinese Professor Jin Canrong: America Is Using The Philippines As A Pawn Against China, But It Will Certainly Lose Any Military Conflict In The South China Sea If It Gets Involved Directly, April 6, 2024.

Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesman Zhang Xiaogang: We Strongly Deplore American Ships Passing Through The Taiwan Strait Near Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea); This Is A Typical Hegemonic Practice That Undermines Regional Stability; The PLA Is On High Alert To Counter Any Provocations, May 18, 2024.

Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesman Wu Qian On Philippines Tensions: America Is The Main Source Of Problems In The South China Sea; We Are Ready To Defend Our Sovereignty And Maritime Interests, March 29, 2024.

President Of The National Institute For South China Sea Studies: The 'U.S. Attempt To Weaponize The Sea Against China Brings Unprecedented Maritime Challenges', June 14, 2022.

"It's China, Stupid!" by Heino Klinck, February 28, 2022.

A Philippine civilian vessel on a supply mission for troops stationed at BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal is blasted with a water cannon by a Chinese coast guard vessel on March 5, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Armed Forces of the Philippines).

A U.S. Army Mid-Range Capability (MRC) Launcher arrives as part of the capability's first deployment into theater on Northern Luzon, Philippines, April 8, 2024. (Source: U.S. ARMY PACIFIC)

The U.S. Army's Mid-Range Capability (MRC) Launcher in northern Luzon, Philippines on April 8, 2024. (Source: US Army Pacific)

China's Hegemonic Ambitions And Militarization Of The South China Sea

China has been constructing artificial islands and building military bases in the South China Sea (SCS), in order to consolidate its position in the region. China's activity completely disregards the historic ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, which favored the Philippines in its claims in the West Philippine Sea. The ruling mainly stressed that Beijing's claims to historic rights and resources within its "nine-dash line" (recently China published a new 10-dash line map) have no legal basis.

China's Militarization of The South China Sea, April 2, 2024.

Philippine Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro: China Is Attempting To Force Countries To Accept Its Claims To Sovereignty In The Entire South China Sea, December 15, 2023.

Xi Urges Efforts To Coordinate 'Maritime Military Preparedness', March 18, 2024.

Philippines Ambassador To The U.S. Romualdez: 'No One Really Knows How Far China Will Go In Staking Its Claims In The South China Sea; Previously It Was Nine-Dash Line, And Today It Is 10 – Then 11, 12?', March 20, 2024.

(Source: Japan Forward)

The new map published in late August 2023 by China (Source: Global Times, CCP mouthpiece)

China recently issued the China Standard Map Edition 2023, which lays claims over large swathes of the South China Sea also disputed by Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei, as well as several land areas in India and Russia. New map reasserts China's claim of Taiwan, overlaps territory with India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Russia and others." (Source:

A plane sits on an airfield next to buildings and structures on the artificial island built by China at Fiery Cross Reef on October 25, 2022 in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea. (Source: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

China's Aggression Against The Philippines

In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been stressing the need to build a so-called grand holistic national security architecture. One important manifestation of this is the aggressive approach to the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea. On November 29, 2023, Xi visited the East China Sea Command of the Armed Police Coast Guard Corps and stressed the need to improve maritime rights protection and law enforcement capabilities. This is clearly aimed at continuing the aggression against the Philippines in the South China Sea. Whether it is the maritime territorial disputes with the Philippines and other countries around the South China Sea, or the Taiwan issue, Xi is obsessed with achieving political goals, which are the source of his ruling legitimacy.

Xi's Dilemma In The China-Philippines Dispute Over The South China Sea, by Chris King, December 11, 2023.

Philippine Ambassador To The U.S. Romualdez: 'The Aggression We Face Today Is Very Real Because China Will Not Let Up On Its Over-Expansive Claims In Our Territorial Waters,' March 11, 2024.

Chinese Coast Guard Fires Water Cannons At Philippine Ship In South China Sea, February 23, 2024.

Increasing Tensions In The South China Sea: Chinese Vessels Block Philippines Ship, February 13, 2024.

Rising Tensions In The South China Sea As China Continues Targeting The Philippines – Chinese Foreign Ministry Claims Ayungin Shoal 'Has Always Been China's Territory'; Philippine President: 'We Will Not Be Cowed Into Silence'; U.S. Stresses That Military Commitment To Manila Is 'Ironclad', April 1, 2024.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. To Australian Parliament: The Philippines Is On The Front Line Against Dangerous Chinese Actions; I Will Not Allow Any Attempt To Seize Our Sovereign Territory, March 7, 2024.

This photo taken on March 5, 2024 shows a China Coast Guard vessel deploying a water cannon at the Philippine military chartered Unaizah May 4 (C) during its supply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. The Philippines said on March 5 that China Coast Guard vessels caused two collisions with Philippine boats and water cannoned one of them, leaving four crew injured during a resupply mission in the South China Sea. (Source: Philippine Star)

Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels surround a Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat near Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard, October 4, 2023)

China Coast Guard ships (left and right) deploy water cannons at the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 (center) during its supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea in this frame grab from aerial video footage taken on March 5, 2024. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)

Philippine vessels were water cannoned by China near Bajo de Masinloc off Zambales province last December 9, 2024, and again, vessels in a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on December 10, 2024. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)

On August 5, 2024, the Philippine Military resupply mission was hit with a water canon from a Chinese Coast Guard cutter. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)

Pro-CCP Political Forces In The Philippines: The Case Of Duterte

Pro-CCP former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the Philippines do not have any quarrel with China, but that the United States is attempting to push the Philippine government to find one and to start a war. He said that the American military bases should be removed from the Philippines, because America should not be using the Philippine islands as launching decks.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: America Is Pushing Us To Find A Quarrel With China, Start A War; It Should Remove Its Bases From Our Islands, April 16, 2024.

Renowned Manila-Based Expert Heydarian: The Philippines Need Investigation To Assess Whether The Duterte Administration's Subservience To China Compromised The Country's National Interests, April 10, 2024.

The Beginning of A New "Asian NATO"?

As tensions in the South China Sea increase, the alliance of the U.S.-Australia-Philippines-Japan, referred to as the "Squad," is being strengthened. Andrew J. Masigan, Manila-based special advisor to MEMRI's China Media Studies Project, stated that China's hostility towards the Philippines stems from the "Philippines' correct pivot to the axis of democracy." He then added that the Philippines are now cooperating with like-minded democracies “to deter China's hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific."

The Philippines Standing Up To China: A Stronger Philippines Means A Stronger Line Of Defense For A Free And Open Indo-Pacific, By Andrew J. Masigan, May 16, 2024.

Renowned Filipino Expert Masigan: 'We Are Cooperating With Like-Minded Democracies To Deter China's Hegemonic Ambitions In The Indo-Pacific'; 'We Must Not Take [China's] Frequent Water Cannon Attacks Like A Sitting Duck... Real Escalation Is To Show Weakness', March 15, 2024.

From 'Quad' To 'Squad' – Renowned Manila-Based Expert Heydarian: The New 'Squad' Of The U.S., Australia, Philippines, And Japan 'Is Likely The Beginning Of A New "Asian NATO"', May 28, 2024.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Military Outlet: 'Japan's Perverse Actions, Such As Developing Offensive Military Strength... Will Seriously Threaten Regional Peace And Stability;' Japan's Defense Ministry: China Has Intensified Its 'Activities In The Maritime And Aerial Domains East China Sea, Pacific Ocean, And Sea Of Japan', April 8, 2024.

Chinese Media Outlet Xinhua: 'The South China Sea Has Become The Battleground Of Big Power Rivalry Under The U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy', May 3, 2024.

Manila-Based Academic Heydarian: 'Majority' Of Continental Southeast Asian Nations 'Seem Invested In Their Bilateral Relations With China'; Southeast Asian States Should Coordinate 'A More Robust Position Against China's Hegemonic Excesses', March 12, 2024.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Military Outlet Examines U.S. Diplomacy In East Asia Following White House Meeting Of U.S. And Philippines Presidents, Japanese Prime Minister, April 12, 2024.

U.S. President Joe Biden escorts Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to their trilateral summit at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2024.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin , Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Japanese Minister of Defense Kihara Minoru, and Secretary of National Defense of Philippines Gilbert Teodoro conduct a multilateral press briefing at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, May 2, 2024. (Source: DoD)

Vessels from Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States sail in formation during a joint maritime exercise in the South China Sea on April 7, 2024. (Source: Australian government)

U.S. M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) fires a missile during a Combined Joint Littoral Live Fire Exercise at the joint military exercise called "Balikatan," Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder in a Naval station in Zambales province, northern Philippines on April 26, 2023. (Source: AP)

Contributions To This Booklet

Heino Klinck, member of MEMRI's Board of Advisors. He served as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, 2019-2021. As a U.S. Army foreign area officer, he served as a military attaché in China, 2004-2010.

Andrew J. Masigan, MEMRI China Media Studies Project Special Advisor. He is a Manila-based economist, businessman, and political columnist for The Philippine Star.

Chris King, Senior Research Fellow for the MEMRI Chinese Media Studies Project. King was an active participant in the student protests in China in 1989.

Anna Mahjar-Barducci, Senior Research Fellow.

Alex Smith, Senior Research Fellow.

Share this Report: