THITU ISLAND, South China Sea — The Philippines inaugurated a new coast guard monitoring base Friday on an island occupied by Filipino forces in the disputed South China Sea and plans to expand joint patrols with the United States and Australia to counter China's “pure bullying” in the strategic waterway, a Philippine security official said.
High-seas faceoffs between Chinese and Philippine ships have intensified this year in the contested waters, fueling fears of a larger conflict that could involve the United States. The U.S. has repeatedly warned that it's obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
China has accused the U.S. of meddling in an Asian dispute and sowing discord in the region.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano and other Philippine officials flew to Thitu Island on an air force plane Friday and led a ceremony to open the newly constructed, two-story center that will have radar, ship-tracking and other monitoring equipment to monitor China's actions in the hotly disputed waters and other problems, including sea accidents.
“It's no longer gray zone. It's pure bullying,” Ano told reporters after the seaside ceremony, describing the actions of Chinese ships as openly flouting international law.
Dwarfed by China's military might, the Philippines decided this year to allow an expansion…