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A Game of Shark and Minnow
Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation.
“You’ve got the wrong science-fiction movie,” one former highly placed U.S. official later told me, when I described what we saw at Subi, and what it might mean for the guys on Ayungin. “It’s not the Death Star. It’s actually the Borg from ‘Star Trek’: ‘You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.’ ” The scholar Huang Jing put it another, more organic way. “The Chinese expand like a forest, very slowly,” he said. “But once they get there, they never leave.”