This Ship Could Trigger a War

'Washington Post' explains how aging Philippines vessel may lead to conflict with China
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2024 2:56 PM CDT
Updated May 4, 2024 6:30 AM CDT
This Ship Could Trigger a War
A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.   (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Earlier this month, President Biden asserted that US support for the Philippines is "ironclad." A new story in the Washington Post explains how that promise might be tested in the not-too-distant future thanks to a rusting warship.

  • The ship: The BRP Sierra Madre belongs to the Philippines, which deliberately ran it aground on the Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 in order to stake its claim to an outpost in the disputed South China Sea. The ship is no longer seaworthy, but Philippine military vessels routinely bring supplies out to the Filipino marines aboard.
  • 'Asia's next war': Chinese military ships harass the Filipino supply ships with water cannons, and it's a dangerous tactic, as videos show. If things escalate, or a Philippine service member is killed, that could trigger a US response under a 1951 mutual defense treaty, per the Post. The story describes the ship as a flashpoint that could lead to "Asia's next war."

  • Days numbered: The ship is destined to succumb to the elements, and it could be a matter of months, not years, according to an analysis in the Guardian. China accuses the Philippines of trying to rehab the ship to make it a permanent fixture on the atoll, which the Philippines denies. China maintains an outpost on the nearby Mischief Reef, and would likely try to claim Second Thomas Shoal as part of its ever-expanding dominance of the sea.
  • One proposal: The Philippines and the US should act before the ship disintegrates, writes Blake Herzinger at War on the Rocks. "The Philippines should remove the Sierra Madre and replace it with a permanent structure manned by combined rotational forces from both the Philippines and the U.S. Marine Corps," he writes. "Such a forward operating base would be a powerful signal of commitment to the alliance for both nations."
(More South China Sea stories.)

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