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The Philippines was both being diplomatic and showing signs of weakness when it said it would not respond to any provocation from China in its widening rift with the Asian superpower over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Instead of aggressively opposing any illegal action of the Chinese as the Vietnamese are doing, it seems the Aquino government would rather offer its other cheek following reports that China is building an artificial island over the Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef) and may also be planning to reclaim land over two other nearby reefs – the Gavin Reef and the Calderon Reef.
 
“The tack that we have taken is that we do not respond to provocative actions, including military action. We always exhaust the diplomatic channels and legal means in addressing this issue,” Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
 
That would have been the proper response to a diplomatic dispute, but China has obviously abandoned diplomacy on the issue, having ignored basically all calls by the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Australia, and the G-7 leaders from Germany, United Kingdom, European Community, France, Canada, Italy, Japan and the US against use of force and coercion in the East and South China Sea.
 
It is becoming obvious that China is ready to bring the dispute to a higher level as it shifts to increasingly bolder, assertive and offensive actions in the region. The bullying has intensified, with the Philippines and Vietnam bearing the brunt of the offensive.
 
Recently, China pulled an oilrig into the Paracels that resulted in a brief skirmish with small Vietnamese vessels, resulting in the sinking of a Vietnamese boat. It also intensified the reclamation of land in the Mabini Reef, forcing the Philippines to file yet another diplomatic protest; and started sending ships with land reclaiming capabilities to Gaven and Calderon Reefs, which like the Mabini Reef are being claimed by the Philippines and are well within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
 
China has been quietly reclaiming Mabini Reef land since 2012 and when confronted by the Philippines about it, the Chinese foreign ministry basically told the Philippines “it’s none of your business.”
 
“China exercises indisputable sovereignty on the Nansha (Spratly) Islands and the adjacent waters,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said. “Any action taken by China on any island falls within China’s sovereignty and has nothing to do with the Philippines.”
 
President Aquino later reported that Chinese ships were seen around the Gavin and Calderon Reefs, obviously with the same intent of reclaiming land in the disputed waters.
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