The foreign fishing boats were deep in Philippine waters near a speck of coral reef known as Sabina Shoal. They bore no official markings, but their blue hulls of reinforced steel — used to ram other vessels — were the telltale signs of Chinese maritime militia. They had not come to fish, but to stake a claim to the sea.
A white patrol ship approached. A woman’s voice lifted through the crackle of a radio: “This is Philippine coast guard. You are within Philippine exclusive economic zone. You are requested to provide the following: name of vessel, intention, last and next port of call.”