The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative brings a report of Chinese tracking and harassing vessels conducting legitimate activities in the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on three occasions.
There are some things worth noting about these three encounters:
- In the first the Taiwanese Coast Guard was successful in allowing the research vessel to complete its task. In the second encounter, the Philippines appears to have surrendered preemtively while the Chinese vessel came no closer than 0,9 miles. In the third, the two Philippine vessels were successfully intimidated and turned away by China Coast Guard vessels supported by maritime militia vessels.
- While Chinese vessels approached these vessels and came with 100 meters in the third incident, there was no indication that they attempted to ram or block movement, though blocking did appear to be the ultimate intent in the third incident. Chinese vessels have intentionally rammed in the past, but I cannot recall a Chinese government vessel ramming another government’s vessel. Chinese maritime militia have employed this tactic.
- In the first encounter the Taiwanese Coast Guard used some of their largest ships as escorts. 5001 is more than 5000 tons full load, larger than the Bertholf class ships (4,500 tons full load). Taiwan Coast Guard’s CG129 is also relatively large at 120 meters (394 ft). It is nominally 3,000 tons, but probably over 4,000 tons full load. China Coast Guard (CCG) 5203 is reportedly 102 meters (335 ft) in length and 14 meters of beam. It is probably around 3,000 tons full load.
- The two Philippine Coast Guard cutters mentioned, BRP Capones and BRP Cape Engaño were both Parola class patrol boats, built in Japan and delivered in 2017 and 2018 respectiely. These 44 meter/146 ft vessels are just a bit smaller and slower than the Webber class. They were much smaller than the CCG vessels.
- Only the Chinese employed vessels were armed with medium caliber naval guns. I was unable to find specs or photographs of CCG 5303 or 5304 but at least CCG 5203 was armed with a modern 3″ gun. The Taiwanese vessels were armed with auto-cannon of up to 40mm. The Philippine CG vessels were armed with nothing larger than .50 cal.
- Taiwanese and Philippine CG vessels appear to have had a speed advantage, but the CCG had a speed advantage over the vessels being escorted. In the third incident any speed advantage was also largely negated by the larger number of Chinese vessels.
It should be clear that if the Philippines intends to operate in their EEZ, in areas included in the “Nine Dash Line,” they should expect the Chinese will confront them. If they intend to operate there, they need to decide to either support the effort strongly or operate not at all. Being chased out repeatedly strengthens China’s position.
Should the Philippines decide to operate in the disputed waters, it does have some advantages at least for operations of short duration. While the China CG is much larger, the Philippines has the advantage of proximity. Far from their bases, the Chinese cannot reinforce quickly. The Philippines can surge large numbers of units the short distance from their bases quickly.
The Philippines has been pushed around. Perhaps it is time to push back. Not an escalation, but a reponse in kind.
A coordinated sweep of Chinese fishing vessels fishing illegally should be possible.
To deter shouldering, size is important, so the Philippine CG should include their largest ships.
To deter the Chinese from resorting to weapons, Philippine law enforcement vesssels should be supported by Philippine Navy vessels. It would not hurt if Philippine light attack aircraft were airborne.
It would also help if vessels of other nations, including the US, were on scene to witness the encounter.
Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention.