The Philippines has drastically stepped up its patrols in the South China Sea recently, and came into closer contact with the China Coast Guard, according to ship tracking data.
Between March 1 to May 25, 13 law enforcement or military vessels from the Philippines visited waters around the contested Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal at least 57 times, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said in note this week.
“This was a substantial increase over the previous 10 months … when 3 vessels were tracked making 7 total visits to contested features,” the report said. It pointed out that this boost in patrols is “beyond anything seen in recent years” from the Philippines.
The South China Sea has been a regional flashpoint in Asia, involving territorial disputes between some countries and China. The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam are among the countries that lay claim to parts of the waterway, but China sees much of the area — including Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal — as part of its territory.
The AMTI, which is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out that the location of patrols by the Philippines has also changed.
Before March, vessels from the Philippines “almost exclusively” traveled to and from the country’s largest outpost in the Spratlys, Thitu Island.