On April 23, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel and a Philippine Coast Guard ship nearly collided with each other near the disputed Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea. The former was more than twice the size of the latter.

The much larger and faster Chinese vessel was trying to block the Philippine maritime law enforcement ship, which was carrying a group of journalists, and was making a very dangerous maneuver that could have resulted in a fatal accident.

The incident could have spoiled Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s goodwill trip to Manila to repair bilateral ties soured by the Chinese Coast Guard’s constant harassment and bullying of small states in the South China Sea.

The actions taken by the Chinese Coast Guard were a direct opposite to what China’s diplomats wanted to convey to Beijing’s neighbors in the region.

It was like China’s right hand was doing something that its left hand did not know.

It’s bad policy. But the Chinese Coast Guard could not be totally blamed. It was just doing its job to protect Chinese national interests, the same way that the Chinese Foreign Ministry was also doing what it could to advance Beijing’s national interests.

However, China has to get its act together. This kind of foreign policy cannot continue forever.

China either has to carry out strong-arm tactics and drop its smiling face to its neighbors, or make friends with countries that claim portions or the whole of the South China Sea and stop harassing its weak and small neighbors.

The Philippines has shifted its own strategy, from appeasing China under the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte to shaming Beijing for its bullying in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Coast Guard has been making public incidents in the South China Sea every time China does something stupid, like pointing military-grade laser, shadowing and blocking a patrol vessel, issuing radio warnings, and deploying hundreds of militia vessels in areas considered part of the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Recently, the Philippine Coast Guard has been allowing local and international journalists to join its maritime and air patrols in the West Philippines Sea to show the press how China has been bullying its neighbors in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Coast Guard was not only making unsafe and dangerous maneuvers, it also has no legal rights to block and warn local vessels to sail in waters within the Philippine EEZ.

China has been clearly violating international laws when it continued to encroach into the Philippine EEZ as well as by ignoring a 2016 decision made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) nullifying its excessive and illegal nine-dash-line claims on the South China Sea.

Might did not give China the right to impose its will in the disputed areas in the South China Sea. It has to obey and adhere to international law under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The April 23 incident near Ayungin Shoal was a clear escalation of China’s harassment in the South China Sea.

The Philippines can expect more of the same bullying from China in the weeks, months and years ahead as countries in the region continue to assert their claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is not alone in upgrading its military facilities in the Spratlys. Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have been reclaiming and expanding their occupied features.

The only difference from what China did in the last 10 years was that the reclamation and improvements made on features by the other claimants were not as excessive and expansive as building islands with 3-km runways and secured ports.

Chinese activities in the South China Sea dwarf those undertaken by five other claimant countries combined—from island-building to deployment of navy, coast guard, and militia vessels.

Chinese fishing fleets have been excessively fishing and extracting resources from the South China Sea like there’s no tomorrow.

From all angles, China has been showing to the world what a schoolyard bully it is.

Looking back to the April 23 incident near Ayungin Shoal, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel’s size was really intimidating. It could really split the BRP Malapascua into two had the two vessels collided.

What good would it make if China defeated smaller states in a war or in the territorial dispute?

China fears getting humiliated in the international community. It might win a shooting war against smaller states but could lose in the war of global public opinion.

China places greater value on its face than crushing its opponents. The Philippines knows this and it has been playing its cards well.

It knows international law will always be on its side.

The Philippines may be facing a giant in the South China Sea. But it is reminded that David had killed Goliath.