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'Barbaric, inhumane': Philippines accuses China on blocking medical evacuation as tensions flare again

The Philippines claimed that the Chinese coast guard blocked an effort to evacuate a sick personnel of its forces on May 19 at the Second Thomas Shoal. The two countries have had a series of confrontations in the past as Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Manila Published on: June 07, 2024 15:18 IST
Representational Image
Image Source : REUTERS Representational Image

Manila: In another flaring up of tensions at the South China Sea, the Philippine coast guard on Friday accused China of blocking efforts to evacuate an unwell member of its armed forces in the disputed waters, calling its actions "barbaric and inhumane". The incident reportedly took place last month, involving a member of a small contingent of Filipino marines posted to guard the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine vessel grounded at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

Notably, the Second Thomas Shoal has been the site of repeated confrontations between Philippines and China over the past year. Coast Guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela said coast guard and navy boats were harassed by Chinese vessels, despite having informed them the operation was of a medical nature.

"The barbaric and inhumane behaviour displayed by the China Coast Guard has no place in our society," Tarriela said in a statement, further claiming that Chinese vessels engaged in "dangerous manoeuvres and even intentionally rammed" a navy boat while it transporting the sick personnel. "What should have been a simple medical evacuation operation was subjected to harassment," he said.

On the other hand, the Chinese foreign ministry said it will allow the Philippines to deliver supplies and evacuate personnel if Manila notifies Beijing ahead of a mission, adding that Manila should not use this as an excuse to transport materials of construction to its naval vessels to occupy the disputed island.

What is the conflict?

China has angered the Philippines by repeatedly harassing its navy and coast guard ships with powerful water cannons, a military-grade laser, blocking movements and other dangerous manoeuvres in the high seas near two disputed South China Sea shoals. They have led to minor collisions that have injured several Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats.

China refers to the Second Thomas Shoal as Ren'ai Jiao. China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. An international tribunal in 2016 said China's expansive claim had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

The Philippines and China have had several confrontations at disputed atolls in the South China Sea, most notably at the Second Thomas Shoal. Last week, Manila protested Beijing's use of water cannons against Filipino vessels at the submerged reef, describing it as harassment and "dangerous manoeuvres", after a rise in tensions in recent months.

Philippine military chief Romeo Brawner said on Tuesday the first attempt to transport the sick soldier to the western province of Palawan failed after they were blocked by the Chinese. Another attempt was made the next day with the help of the Philippine coast guard and the soldier was successfully evacuated, Brawner said.

Swedish defence chief expresses alarm 

Meanwhile, Sweden's Defense Minister Pål Jonson expressed alarm over Beijing's repeated dangerous maneuvers against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, saying such actions threaten security, undermine stability and underscore the need to invest “for our security and freedom.”

“Let me express my deep concern on the repeated dangerous maneuvers against Philippines vessels that have been taking place in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea," Jonson said, not mentioning China by name. He was speaking at a diplomatic reception in Manila for Sweden's national day after meeting his Philippine counterpart, Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

“These acts put human lives at risk, they undermine regional stability and international law and they threaten the security in the region and beyond,” Jonson said. “These are not only threats to your national security but threats to our common global security.” Sweden is one of the possible sources of supersonic fighter jets that the Philippines plans to acquire as its military shifts focus from decades of fighting communist and Muslim insurgencies to territorial defence.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | US, Philippines' strongest ever message to Xi Jinping: Blow up ship during drills in South China Sea I VIDEO

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