Second Thomas Shoal Emerges as South China Sea Flashpoint

150722-N-MK881-015 SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 21, 2015) The Republic of Singapore Navy’s RSS Intrepid (69), right, RSS Supreme (73), center, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), left, trail the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during the underway phase of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore 2015. CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joe Bishop/Released)

The Second Thomas Shoal, known as the Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines, has emerged as a main flashpoint in the South China Sea.

The overriding contradiction remains the same: Beijing’s ‘gray zone tactics’ altering the de facto map of the region by consolidating a presence in far-flung corners of the South China Sea, and always to the detriment of the territorial claims of other littoral states. Manila on the other hand has been pushing back against these actions with newfound zeal, as the current Marcos administration has been much more willing to press the issue and draw diplomatic and military assistance from its treaty ally in the United States than the previous Duterte government.

The character and extent of this US support will go far in determining how tensions surrounding the Second Thomas Shoal play out. And given the marked absence of diplomatic good faith, coupled with China’s slow-but-steady territorial advance of recent years, pressure is mounting on both Manila and Washington to collectively draw a line in the proverbial sand. It follows that we could be witnessing a geopolitical paradigm shift in-the-making, one where kinetic options begin to take precedence over diplomatic ones in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

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