Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannons on two Philippine supply boats heading to a disputed shoal occupied by Filipino marines in the South China Sea. (File photo | AP)

BEIJING: China increases its coercive diplomacy as it tests the patience of the contestant participants in the South China Sea, according to a think tank.

Military exercises and increased coast guard patrols in the disputed waters have brought China’s ties with its neighbours to near-boiling. The Chinese Coast Guard authority was given teeth in January 2021 to enforce maritime claims, by force, if necessary. China’s neighbours are naturally wary of Bamboo Capitalist’s hegemony, as noted by International Forum for Rights and Security

Further, more than 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels gathered in March last year at Whitsun Reef in the disputed Union Banks. Philippines and Vietnam cornered China. Photos and videos of Chinese brazenness became front-page news forcing Beijing to duck for cover from diplomatic bouncers.

Quickly, China dispersed the fleet to nearby reefs only to bring them back in strength in an act of fresh assertive claims.

Again, in November last year, China turned high-pressure water cannons on a civilian ship resupplying a Philippine troop on Second Thomas Shoal. Manila is said to be working on a plan to deploy Coast Guard vessels to Thitu Island in the Spratlys. It has already stepped-up patrols in the South China Sea.

On the other hand, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been known for maintaining cordial ties with China, he did not mince words in ticking off China for harassing the resupply missions.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s troubles with China over hydro-carbons began in July last year. As a licensed rig began drilling two appraisal wells in Tuna block at Indonesia’s southern edge of the South China Sea, Chinese Coast Guard vessels approached it menacingly and began patrolling around the rig. It went on for the next four months, as noted by International Forum for Rights and Security.

Further, China also conducted a seabed survey of Indonesia’s continental shelf. But as the Year 2021 drew to a close, the tide turned in favour of Indonesia. Its Maritime Security Agency completed the Tuna block drilling and declared ‘victory’ over China.

Meanwhile, Malaysia may not see any respite from Chinese coercion, and harassment. The dragon’s shadow will loom large because of its offshore operations.

Only a common strategy for a more robust stance on China will help these nations to stop the Beijing bully in its tracks. Indonesia has just taken the initiative to bring together Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. It is too early to crystal gaze the outcome of the effort.

One thing is clear though. The South-East Asian nations are not going to remain passive spectators and let China achieve its hegemonistic designs.

Further, they are working on strengthening their defences. Some of them may even align with the US as a hedging op against the Chinese power display, as noted by International Forum for Rights and Security.