Philippines to resume humanitarian resupply to China in disputed South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China will restart their annual humanitarian resupply mission to the South China Sea this month after the cancellation of a recent rendezvous at a tense place just a short distance off the Chinese coast.

The World Health Organization confirmed Tuesday that it would send a plane carrying 56 containers of medical supplies to the Hainan provincial capital, Huizhou, in the next few days for a mission scheduled for Jan. 31 to Feb. 1.

The mission was cancelled last week when Chinese authorities changed the flight route and runway, forcing Philippine officials to move it to the eastern coast.

The resupply mission is considered a form of leverage for Manila. The Philippines has long pursued a policy of neutrality in the disputes between Beijing and several other countries over the South China Sea.

Both countries can take advantage of the resupply mission if they wish to add pressure to one another over the issue.

A World Health Organization spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the latest contact took place on Sunday, and that WHO and the Philippine authorities have been trying to resolve the matter.

The Philippines did not immediately respond to queries on the resupply mission.

After Manila and Beijing canceled the resupply mission, Singapore announced last week that it would resume its resupply mission on Feb. 1.

Southeast Asian leaders have set a summit meeting in late February in Indonesia to discuss the South China Sea dispute. The Philippines and Vietnam proposed holding bilateral talks with China on the maritime disputes but China has rejected the offer.

It is unclear if Singapore intends to continue a resupply mission. But some analysts said it would be more symbolic if it succeeded in resupplying as well.

“Singapore in fact has done nothing other than add to tension, not resolve it,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Storey said only the major powers with diplomatic relations with both the Philippines and China, such as the United States and Japan, have an opportunity to exert pressure over China on the issue.

“Through this strategy, the Philippines, or any other country, can count on support from its larger neighbors, who have little interest in further slowing or slowing the momentum in this dispute and the heightened suspicion in the region,” he said.

“That can only happen when a country has shown a willingness to stand up to China,” Storey said.

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