The Philippine coast guard reported last week that two of its ships were involved in a confrontation with the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. According to the Philippines, the Chinese vessels were engaged in unsafe maneuvers. The incident occurred near the Spratly Islands, which have been a point of contention for years.
This episode is of little military significance since the Philippines and China have been dueling in the region for years. What is significant, however, is the timing. In January, the Chinese launched a significant diplomatic opening with the Philippines. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had accepted an invitation to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in China. The meeting, which seems to have gone well, represented a potential threat to the United States, which was the dominant outside power in the region and had considerable influence in the Philippines. (Relatedly, Marcos met with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday.)