The exercises come after Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte made several visits to China seeking financial backing to allow him to further an infrastructure policy he has described as “build, build, build”. The Philippines has similar infrastructure investment needs to Indonesia which last week scrambled warships and fighter jets after China sent armed coastguard vessels into its exclusive economic zone. Jakarta’s response appeared to have repulsed the incursion but several Chinese boats have since returned to the waters near the Natuna islands.
China’s sweeping territorial claims in South China Sea overlap with Indonesia’s near the Natunas.
But Beijing’s strong-arm approach is backed by powerful military and naval forces and an awareness of its financial clout in the troubled region.
The latest confrontation comes as Indonesia seeks hundreds of millions of pounds of Chinese investment in its roads, railways, ports and airports, such as a high speed train from capital Jakarta to the city of Bandung.
China’s foreign ministry said: “We believe Indonesia will also bear in mind the bigger picture of bilateral relations and regional stability, properly resolve differences with China.”
Chinese and Philippines coastguard are holding joint drills this week
NATO has warned the “rising power” of Beijing has provided some “serious challenges” to the rest of the world.
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO highlighted the growing influence of China across the South China Sea, other continents and even Space.
Mr Stoltenberg told US network CNBC: “What we see is that the rising power of China is shifting the global balance of power and the rises of China.
“The economic rise, the military rise, provides some opportunities but also some serious challenges.”
A Chinese coastguard vessel patrols the South China Sea
Taiwanese forces in action in the South China Sea
Allegations of the “militarisation” of the South China Sea has raised tensions with the US which has longstanding concers about Chinese expansionism in the Pacific and itself maintains a significant military and naval presence in the region.
And now Japan has joined a growing chorus of calls for the international community to take stronger action against China’s growing presence in the disputed waters.
Japanese MP, Akihisa Nagashima, told more than 200 representatives at the 28th Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Canberra, the world should not “sit on the sidelines” against Beijing’s emerging influence in the region.
China claims vast areas of the energy-rich waters and has established military outposts on artificial islands.
The contested waters are also believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas.
Mr Nagashima, who also sits on the National Security Committee, told representatives from more than 30 countries, including Russia and the US, the actions of Beijing poses a threat to regional order.
He said: “China forcibly conducted large-scale rapid reclamation of maritime features which are being converted into military outposts.
“We should not sit on the sidelines in the face of these developments, if these kinds of actions are repeated, condoned and left unaddressed, they could completely subvert the existing regional order.
“We should reaffirm the very principle that any unilateral action by force or coercion to change the status quo is unacceptable.
“I cannot over-emphasise the critical importance of the hard earned set of rules and principals for the stability and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.”
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South China Sea map
The South China Sea is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
A 2015 US Department of Defence report found an estimated $5.3 trillion worth of goods are shuttled through the South China Sea on an annual basis.
Under international law, a large part of the South China Sea comes under Vietnamese sovereignty.
Beijing insists the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to China – a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.