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Race to fix crumbling Philippines ship threatens conflict in South China Sea

Even as concerns mount in the US over a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the flashpoint most likely to spark a conflict between the world’s largest economies is currently an immobile World War II-era ship sitting in waters further to the south.
Recent months have seen water cannon fire, repeated close encounters and diplomatic protests, as the Philippines, a treaty ally of the US, has pushed back against recurring Chinese incursions in its exclusive economic zone.

Matters came to a boil last weekend when boats from the two countries collided on two separate occasions as the Philippines attempted to resupply the dilapidated ship it has used to reinforce its territorial claims.
China has repeatedly accused Manila of infringing on its territorial sovereignty while Philippine officials, emboldened by an increasingly assertive President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, are weighing how best to add military heft to future missions.

The US, for its part, has clarified its commitments to the Philippines and President Joe Biden was unequivocal in his comments earlier this week. “I want to be very clear: The United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad,” he said Wednesday at the White House.
The Philippines is not the only nation at risk as the US accuses China of repeated incidents between its two militaries. On Thursday, US Indo-Pacific Command released video footage that it said showed a Chinese J-11 fighter executing an “unsafe intercept” of a US Air Force B-52 bomber over the

South China Sea.
With neither side backing down, some former officials see the situation only worsening. The prospect of an incident in the waters that could drag the US into direct conflict with China makes the South China Sea “far more dangerous” than the Taiwan Strait, according to Zhou Bo, who served as a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020.
“The Americans will keep on sending ships and aircraft to come, and for such a practice they have practiced for decades. It’s difficult for American to back down,” he said during a conference in Vietnam on Wednesday. The “Chinese military is growing and we’re big and stronger. Of course we’ve become less tolerant