Summary

The Philippine government issued a formal diplomatic protest over China’s activities in the South China Sea over the weekend. The complaint centers on the contested shoal of Whitsun Reef (‘Julian Felipe’ in Philippines), where hundreds of Chinese coast guard vessels were spotted in early March.

Just over one year out from elections, the incident reflects the delicate balance struck by Rodrigo Duterte with regard China-Philippines relations. It also shows that, despite early heralds of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific,’ the salami continues to be sliced in the South China Sea, slowly but surely altering the status quo in Beijing’s favor.