The Philippines’ military announced that it wants to set up a cruise service in the South China Sea that will tour the islands in the Spratly chain. While the Philippines has control of the islands, China, Vietnam, and Taiwan have all staked their claims on some or all of the territory. The Diplomat reports:
Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the newly installed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), outlined his vision for a cruise service on Thursday while visiting the Palawan-based Western Command, which is responsible for the South China Sea.
When asked about how he would direct Western Command to handle China’s buildup in the region, Gen. Catapang responded in part by saying, “I challenged them to make Palawan the next most prosperous province. Palawan has a lot of potentials [sic], especially if we can also develop the islands that we now possess as [a] tourism destination – fishing grounds, and later on, we can find more oil and gas in the area.”
This led him to mention his goal of creating a cruise service in the region. “Hopefully, we will be able to put up a cruise ship going around six islands,” he said. Among these six are the disputed Spratly Islands of Patag, Lawak and Pagasa, as well as the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
China also operates a cruise service to disputed South China Sea islands, as we wrote in April of last year. Both China and the Philippines know that conducting even innocuous activities in the vicinity of disputed territories will bolster their claims to the islands. Cruise ship diplomacy is just another way to play the geopolitical Game of Thrones in the South China Sea.