By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE HOTLINE between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards that started in 2017 has been inactive since January, a Manila coast guard official said at the weekend. 

The hotline was set up in 2017 through a 2016 memo signed by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Philippine Chinese coast guards was not renewed when President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. went to Beijing in January, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tristan Tarriela told a news briefing. “This is one of the MoUs proposed by the Chinese Embassy but it was not renewed.”

The Philippine Coast Guard will only communicate with its Chinese counterpart through the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) direct line with Beijing, he said.

“We’re no longer using the PCG-Chinese Coast Guard hotline. It no longer exists,” he said, adding that they haven’t gained anything from the setup.

National Security Council Assistant Director Jonathan E. Malaya has said DFA had contacted its Chinese counterpart when the Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannons at Philippine vessels on a resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal, but it never responded.

“We were calling the number given by the People’s Republic of China to us. No one answered,” he said. He added that China only answered the Philippine call when the incident was over.

Meanwhile, security experts expect China to fire more water cannons at Philippine vessels as the Marcos government pursues legal steps against its neighbor and forms ties with its allies to defend its claims in the South China Sea.

“China fires water cannon whenever the Philippines uses lawfare against them and strays away from their relationship,” Chester B. Cabalza, founder of the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He said China used water cannons against Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal in 2014 after the Philippines under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III filed an arbitration case against them in 2013. “At that time, China was already in control of Scarborough Shoal since the high tensions in 2012.”

China used the same tactic in 2021 against a Philippine resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal, after Mr. Duterte reaffirmed Philippine alliance with Washington by boosting the Visiting Forces Agreement, Mr. Cabalza said.

“The use of water cannon recently was the first attempt under Marcos, Jr.’s presidency,” Mr. Cabalza said, citing the administration’s growing security ties with Washington and the push by Philippine lawmakers for the country to sponsor a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly calling on China to cease its harassment of Filipino vessels.

On Aug. 5, the Chinese Coast Guard, backed by its maritime militia and People’s Liberation Army ships, used water cannons to drive away Philippine vessels trying to bring food and other supplies to a grounded Philippine ship at Second Thomas Shoal.

“This form of harassment is an element of China’s overarching provocative salami-slicing strategy that stops short of a military confrontation, but gets the job done nonetheless in terms of establishing its strength in a particular geographical space,” said Don Mclain Gill, who teaches foreign relations at De La Salle University in Manila.

“Such activities will continue to persist unless a significant strategic cost will be placed on Beijing,” he said via Messenger chat.

Jay L. Batongbacal, who heads the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law, said China was unlawfully forcing the Philippines to act against its will by “undertaking acts knowingly against another state’s vessels.”

“That should already qualify as a threat, even if not the use of force against another state, in violation of the United Nations charter, the lack of armed attack notwithstanding,” he tweeted.

Mr. Batongbacal said it is time for the Philippines to walk away from negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

“There is no point in talking about code of conduct mechanisms under conditions of threats, duress and utter lack of self-restraint,” he said. “Continuing talks only make ASEAN look useless. Time to walk away.”