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US Ally Philippines Resupplies Outpost in South China Sea Amidst Standoff with China

Over the weekend, the Philippines conducted an unusual airdrop mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, a disputed territory at the center of its geopolitical conflict with China. Normally supplied by boat convoys, this move represents a significant development in the ongoing territorial dispute.

Aerial Resupply Mission

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The Philippines opted for an aerial resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal, which is home to the BRP Sierra Madre, an 80-year-old grounded warship used to assert the Philippines’ claim over the reef.

Aerial Delivery

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Images shared on social media by the Philippines’ armed forces showed a crew member aboard a government prop plane dropping supplies from the air. The drop was executed from different perspectives, including from sea level.

Unusual Departure

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While the airdrop was unconventional, it’s uncertain if this approach will become routine. The delivered supplies were limited, making it a temporary measure, according to experts.

Modest Impact

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The amount of cargo the plane could carry was relatively small, which led experts to believe that China might not be greatly concerned about this particular mission.

Future Resupply Options

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Experts suggested that if the Philippines invested in seaplanes or floatplanes, it could expand its resupply options for the Sierra Madre and similar outposts.

China’s Perspective

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China regards the grounded warship as illegal and violating its sovereignty. Chinese authorities aim to discourage Philippine resupply missions to prevent the maintenance or repair of the Sierra Madre.

Tense Standoffs

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Recent months have witnessed increasingly tense standoffs between Philippine supply trips and Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels blockading them.

Escalation of Conflict

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During a mission in the previous month, Chinese coast guard ships used water cannons against Philippine supply boats, causing damage to one vessel’s engine. Another supply boat carrying the Philippine military’s chief of staff collided with a blocking Chinese vessel during an attempt to disengage.

Territorial Dispute

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China asserts sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, such as Second Thomas Shoal.

International Ruling

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The Philippines, along with various Asian and Western governments, including the U.S., insists that an international tribunal’s 2016 ruling against China’s expansive South China Sea claims is legally binding. However, China rejects the ruling’s validity.

U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty

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The U.S. has repeatedly affirmed that its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines extends to defense against attacks anywhere, including the South China Sea.

Deescalation Efforts

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Last week, Philippine and Chinese officials met to discuss ways to deescalate tensions and avoid the use of force, although both sides remain steadfast in their territorial positions.

Uncertain Resolution

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The situation in the South China Sea remains complex, with no clear resolution in sight. Hopes for deescalation persist, but expectations remain cautious.

Official Responses

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The Philippines’ armed forces and the Chinese Foreign Ministry had not provided immediate responses to Newsweek’s requests for comment at the time of reporting.

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