Two Rival Nations Will Send Their Navies to a Disputed Island in June — For a Beach Party

Well, this is certainly a fun way to protest territorial aggression.

This week, Vietnam and the Philippines announced that their navies will hold a party on a South China Sea island in June. Sailors from the two countries are planning on getting together to drink some beer, listen to music, play volleyball and shoot the breeze. But while that might sound like a late spring break getaway, there is an important reason behind it: to intimidate China.

The party will be held on Southwest Cay, which is part of Spratly Islands — an area contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China. Though Vietnam and the Philippines have not always seen eye-to-eye in the past, the two countries are hoping that their united front will show that they are not afraid of Chinese aggression.

The background: The Philippines lost Southwest Cay island 40 years ago when Vietnamese troops seized it while the Philippine forces were off to party on another island. Both sides still claim the island as their own, but they are setting aside their differences for now.

China has been flexing its muscle in the region for the past few years, in case that the U.S. alliance with Japan and the Philippines threatens its territorial interests. Though China argues that it has historical claims over the disputed waters, U.S. officials believe that that may serve as pretext for future conflicts.

"They've been quite aggressive about asserting what they believe is their manifest destiny, if you will, in that part of the world," said national intelligence director James Clapper.

Since 2009, Chinese paramilitary patrols and surveillance vessels have been "harassing" Vietnamese and Philippine ships and fishermen. China and the Philippines have come dangerously close to an armed conflict in 2012 and 2013.

A regional realignment: Vietnam and the Philippines are far from the only countries in the region that are attempting to shore up an alliance. As China continues to assert itself in the disputed waters, small countries are getting together to show that they cannot be ignored.

"Among the new network of ties: growing cooperation between Japan and India; Vietnam courting India and Russia; and Manila and Hanoi, the two capitals most feeling China's wrath over claims to the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, working more closely together. The Philippines and Vietnam are also talking to Malaysia about China," reported Reuters.

The effects of Russian annexation of Crimea also cannot be understated. Smaller countries in Asia have been concerned by what they perceive as American weakness in the face of a brewing land conflict, which leads to the question: If the U.S. can't stand up to Russia to defend its ally Ukraine, what guarantee is there that it will stop China from taking over other countries in the South China Sea?

Vietnam and the Philippines now believe that if they can settle the dispute surrounding the South China Sea amongst themselves, that would show China that they would not be intimidated. "If we get there, we get there," said Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. "That's a good opportunity for us."

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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