China’s southeast Asian neighbors have long contested China’s claim over what China refers to as the South China Sea. None contest this claim more boldly than the Philippines. Manila’s confidence in the face of Chinese opposition is backed by two facts. First, the Philippines has little to lose economically in terms of Chinese retaliation. Second, the Philippines has support from the US military. The 1.4-million-square-mile maritime region supports fisheries exploited by both nations, and holds an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil in subsurface reservoirs.
Tension between the two nations regarding the South China Sea has compounded. On multiple occasions, the Philippines has fined and detained Chinese fishermen. Two years ago, the Philippines filed for arbitration in the UN court on the basis that China’s claim over the South China Sea was inconsistent with UN Convention on Law of the Sea. Although China has imposed economic sanctions on the Philippines, the Philippines’ economy does not suffer drastically from these sanctions as the Philippine economy relies primarily on the global service industry.