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Excessive, unlawful: Philippines accuses Chinese ship of firing water cannon on its vessels in South China Sea

The vessels were escorting boats that were carrying essential supplies like water, fuel and military forces to the Second Thomas Shoal, which were blocked by the Chinese Coast Guard ship.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Manila Published on: August 06, 2023 16:42 IST
Philippine vessels were blocked by Chinese vessels from
Image Source : AP Philippine vessels were blocked by Chinese vessels from delivering essential supplies

The Philippines military on Saturday accused China's coast guard ships of firing a water cannon against Philippine vessels near the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. The Chinese ship allegedly used the water cannon to block indigenous boats from delivering new troops, water and fuel to the Philippine-occupied Shoal.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines issued a statement on Facebook where it strongly condemned the Chinese Coast Guard's "excessive and unlawful actions" against Philippine vessels near the shoal. 

"One of our chartered supply boats was blocked and water cannoned by a CCG vessel yesterday, August 5, while en route to Ayungin Shoal for a routine troop rotation and resupply mission, in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board and in violation of international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award," read the statement. 

The Philippines military also said that due to the dangerous maneuvers by the Chinese Coast Guard, the second supply boat was unable to unload the supplies, and called on Beijing to "act with prudence and be responsible for their actions" in prevention of threatening accidents.

Soon after, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also issued a similar statement condemning the Chinese actions against their vessels, which were delivering essential supplies to military troops in the shoal.

"The PCG calls on the China Coast Guard to restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident," said PCG spokesperson or the West Philippine Sea, CG Commodore Jay Tarriela in a statement.

The incident marks the latest confrontation in the long-standing dispute  between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei over territorial claims in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

Beijing claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety, putting it on a collision course with other claimants. Chinese military has repeatedly targeted other vessels in the disputed sea 

Other countries respond to the confrontation

The disputes in the South China Sea has been described as a fault line in the rivalry between the United States and China. Even as Washington places no claims in the disputed area, it has often slammed Beijing's aggressive actions and deployed its warships and fighter jets, along with holding military drills with regional allies, in what it claims to be in its national interest.

China, on the other hand, has termed the dispute purely as an Asian conflict and has threatened Washington with unspecified repercussions for its intervention. It has also criticised a recent agreement by the Philippines and the US to allow access to American troops to Filipino military camps.

In a statement on Saturday, the US Department of State expressed solidary with the Philippines against the "dangerous actions by the Coast Guard and maritime militia" of China. "Firing water cannons and employing unsafe blocking maneuvers, PRC ships interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and jeopardized the safety of the Philippine vessels and crew," it further said.

The State Department also said that China has no lawful claim in the maritime area and any armed attack against Philippine military forces, vessels or aircraft will invoke US mutual defense commitments. 

Australia also expressed concern over the incident and described the actions of the Chinese vessel as "dangerous and destabilising', while Japan also expressed support for the Philippines, saying that "the harassment  and action, which infringe on lawful activities of the sea and endanger navigational safety were totally unacceptable".

In recent years, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs has filed several diplomatic vessels against hostile actions by China, who have not commented on the latest stand-off. China has demanded for long that Manila withdraw its small contingent of naval forces and the BRP Sierra Madre navy ship from the Ayungin Shoal, also called the Second Thomas Shoal.

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