I've written that the Philippines needs enough military power to make China have to be willing to make a fairly sizable military effort to defeat the Philippines. China would like to keep it at a low enough level so that nobody much notices. That might not be enough to defend Manila's interests:
The government has told oil companies to hold off on drilling for natural gas off Reed bank. This is within Filipino territory, but China threatens to use force to prevent drilling. ... This exploration work was done 230 kilometers off the coast of the Philippine's Palawan Island, which is well within the internationally recognized EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that extends 380 kilometers from the coast. ...
The Chinese strategy is to make it difficult for other nations to fish or search for oil and gas in the disputed waters. ... China is assuming that no nation, including the United States, will confront China with military force in these matters. China itself will use military force sparingly. ... The Philippines is hoping that the United States will provide the military muscle to make China back off. The U.S. has been lukewarm in its response to this Filipino request. The Philippines has had oil and gas exploration going on in the Reed Bank area since 2005. Drilling was supposed to start last year. The Philippines really needs the income from this project.
The Philippines needs to fight this struggle outside of the military realm even if they still need enough military strength to compel China to fight a fairly big battle to get their way, if necessary.
Perhaps if the Philippines sends in drilling crews with lots of live video feeds recording everything that happens in real time, and time this to coincide with some major UN event in New York City.
And design a plan designed to spend the income from that first oil or gas field on desperately needed social programs or hospitals, or something obviously humanitarian. Make sure there are videos of the areas that will get the programs, services, or construction. And interviews with the people who need these basic services.
And offer to host multi-lateral negotiations among all of the states that have claims in the South China Sea.
In this operation, the Philippines would need to keep their military power held back. The idea is to compel China to be the bad guys and be the bad guys publicly, while the Philippines are the little guys just trying to get by with a legitimate project within their own territory.
And if that doesn't work, the Philippines should lay minefields all around where they want to drill to protect the drilling rigs, and be prepared for a battle.
We could commit to replacing combat losses for the Philippines, while being prepared to help with negotiations. It is a bit much to expect us to go to war with China over this. But we can pledge our material support for the Philippines as they stand their ground. And by offering this support, China can't assume we won't offer more help and perhaps enter the fight after all, if the Chinese escalate enough to move the fight beyond low level aggression with militarized--rather than military--assets.
I'm not the one to plan this type of thing, but Manila clearly needs an information operation where they have hope of fighting on equal terms with China.
UPDATE: Hey, this is a nice touch:
China said on Wednesday that a request by the Philippines for a U.N. tribunal to intervene in its longstanding South China Sea territorial dispute with China would only complicate the issue, and denounced Manila's "illegal occupation" of islands there.
Who's unilateral now? The Law of the Sea won't help for most of the South China Sea disputes (or the East China Sea dispute), but for areas close to the Philippines within Manila's exclusive economic zone that Peking does not want to accept this could make China squirm.