China Softly Attacks the Philippines
The Philippines was a key a American naval base back in the 1980s, Subic Bay played a vital role in America's presence in the Asian theater. Today, America remains vital to the region to counter the recent Chinese threats of dominance and the Philippines continues to be an important factor. America has entered into agreements to use five airbases in the Philippines should the need arise. One is within 200 miles of the disputed Spratly islands that include some belonging to the Philippines in the South China Sea.
Most would agree that at some point in the future, a military conflict will happen between China and America in the South China Sea. China has ignored the International Court's ruling that ruled in favor of the Philippines regarding the islands in question. Yet, today, China has created three key military bases on them armed with deadly medium range anti-ship missiles that can intercept any naval unit. They did this with hardly any opposition from the Duerte government, which is accused of making the Philippines a "province of China".
Duerte, the Trump-like leader of the Philippines, was afraid to challenge the Chinese. He remains enough anti-American to not ask for American assistance in thwarting Chinese incursions in the Philippine waters. This led to his government in being bullied by China in numerous economic deals, not to mention, in islands in the South China Sea.
The Philippine press and Rappler website are correct in that Duerte caved in these discussions where China gave them $24 billion in loans and investments. Many of the projects employ mostly Chinese workers even when the unemployment there is 5% or more. Chinese loans state that if the loan repayment defaults, China can find equity in seizing other economic assets. This refers to Subic Bay, a naval base the Chinese would love to have. The vast amounts of natural gas within Philippine waters in the South China Sea, could also be seized, not mention other islands within Philippine waters. This contract clause was the same used to seize the two Sri Lanka naval ports after the country defaulted on Chinese loans. It is a greatly debated issue in the Philippines.
When the Philippines started to update their Pag-asa (Thitu) island in the Spratly islands, where several hundred of Filipinos reside, the Chinese para-military force, their naval militia of fishing boats, descended upon this small atoll. Over 100 such ships have surrounded the island to hinder Philippine ships in providing support of the build-up and other supplies. The small island is vital for its small airfield on it, that again, the Chinese would have seized it already had not Filipinos lived there. The Chinese militia is also fishing to the point that local fisherman have noticed the area is being depleted. Another tactic used to starve the residents.
The Philippines allocated $1.6 billion pesos to create a military-research station, which China does not like or want. These tactics so far have failed, but time will tell. China claims that Scarborough atoll, which is very close to the Philippines, is also theirs.
While Duerte is under a lot of fire regarding these economic ties to China, he has at least allowed America to have access to a Philippine airbase on Palawan in case a conflict arises. The airbase would be used by F-35 and F-22 aircraft and is within 200 miles of Chinese bases.