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Philippines winning info war vs China — official

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By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES is way ahead of China in the information warfare over the South China Sea amid growing international support for its security presence in the waterway, according to a security official.

“One of the major changes we did was to release information to the public, which we call measured transparency, to expose China’s action,” National Security Council Assistant Director-General Jonathan E. Malaya told One News channel last week. “What we have done has changed global opinion in our favor.”

He was referring to the strategy of documenting and publicizing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea that has sparked international condemnation.

The strategy was made public after a Chinese Coast Guard ship used a military-grade laser that allegedly blinded the crew of a 44-meter Philippine Coast Guard vessel that was supporting a resupply mission of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Suddenly, China has started its own information campaign as well,” Mr. Malaya said. “Before, it was just us exposing what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea during rotation and resupply missions. Now, three or five minutes from the incident of collision between the two, we have a statement coming from Beijing.”

“They understand that they are losing the information war worldwide.”

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has publicized the swarming of Chinese maritime militia vessels and ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Mr. Malaya said journalists have been joining the resupply missions to inform the international community of what’s happening in the waterway.

The Chinese Coast Guard on Nov. 10 released a statement after the Philippines held a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, saying it had “followed Philippine vessels in accordance with the law” and had “taken control measures.”

Philippine authorities later said a diplomatic protest had been filed after Chinese vessels used water cannons to block the mission.

“We are winning the information war, and China realizes that it cannot keep silent so it comes up with its own narrative,” Mr. Malaya said, adding that the strategy has limited China’s options.

“The Philippines has built a lot of support for its position, both domestically and internationally, through its assertive transparency campaign,” Raymond M. Powell, a team leader at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said in an X message.

“It needs to continue to build this leverage so that China starts to look for an off-ramp.”

In an article in April, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tristan Tarriela said the PCG’s transparency “aligns with the government’s stance that the South China Sea conflict should not be militarized.”

He said among the transparency campaign’s objectives is to gain support from Southeast Asian neighbors because by standing in unison, “these countries can send a powerful message to Beijing that such bullying actions will not be accepted and that they are committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region.”

“After all, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei are also claimants in the South China Sea, and Indonesia is currently involved in a dispute with China over the Natuna Islands,” he said. “It is critical for these nations to recognize Beijing’s aggressive and intimidating behavior, as it will allow them to come together and jointly condemn it as a violation of international law.”

Citing Beijing’s continued attempts to block Philippine missions to Second Thomas Shoal, which Manila calls Ayungin, Mr. Malaya said the feature is likely a target for Chinese militarization since the area is large.

“It’s part of their strategy to continue to militarize it. Their next target is Ayungin Shoal,” he said. “We are actually winning because we’re there. We have effectively occupied Ayungin Shoal. We are not going anywhere.”

The Philippines in 1999 deliberately grounded BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era ship donated by the US government in 1976, at Second Thomas Shoal to assert its claim.

Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. recently expressed concern about the situation in the South China Sea, which he said has become “more dire.”

China has come “closer and closer” to the Philippine coastline as it builds more military bases, he said at a forum in Honolulu earlier this month. “The nearest one is now around 60 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine coast.”

Mr. Malaya said allocating funds for building structures in the shoal under the proposed 2024 national budget could mean that the Philippines is viewing issues over the feature as a matter of national policy.

“We heard from the Senate that they will provide concrete funding — and the decision is a done deal — that there will be an allocation under next year’s General Appropriations Act for structures at Ayungin Shoal,” he said.

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