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Another Philippines-China tussle! Manila protests after Chinese ship nearly collides with Filipino vessel

This incident comes a week after Chinese vessels installed a 300 m-long barrier near the Scarborough Shoal to block Filipino boats and vessels. The Philippines has repeatedly accused Beijing of flouting international law.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Manila Published on: October 06, 2023 18:45 IST
PCG vessel being blocked by a Chinese ship in the disputed
Image Source : AP PCG vessel being blocked by a Chinese ship in the disputed South China Sea.

Tensions between the Philippines and China flared up again at the disputed South China Sea after a Chinese coast guard ship almost collided with a Filipino patrol vessel as the former was trying to block it, intensifying fears of a larger crisis over territorial disputes in the waters.

Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Jay Tarriela condemned the Chinese ship's dangerous maneuver near the Second Thomas Shoal - claimed both by China and the Philippines - saying that the Chinese vessel came within a metre of the Philippine vessel.

"A total of five (5) Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels once again actively assisted the CCG (Chinese Coast Guard) in blocking our PCG vessels...A total of 4 CCG vessels were dispatched to obstruct the resupply mission, and they were actively assisted by 5 CMM vessels," he said, again accusing China of violating international law.

One PCG vessel was blocked and surrounded by Chinese coast guard and militia ships in the incident that dragged on for around eight hours on Wednesday. Two smaller supply boats managed to breach the Chinese blockade and delivered food and other supplies to a Filipino marine outpost at the shoal.

The Philippine vessel BRP SINDANGAN, which had to rapidly reverse its engine to avoid slamming into the Chinese ship, was “the closest dangerous maneuver” by any CCG ship, said Tarriela. The incident was witnessed by several journalists.

How did it begin?

On Wednesday, several CCG and militia ships, including at least one navy warship, later emerged and formed a blockade in the high seas off the shoal. A Chinese radio operator asserted to the Philippines vessels that Beijing has "indisputable sovereignty" over the Second Thomas Shoal and outlying waters. "To avoid miscalculations, leave and keep out," the operator said.

In response, the PCG asserted Philippine rights to the area and said they would proceed with the delivery of the supplies. 

"China firmly opposes the Philippines illegally transporting building materials to the grounded' military boat. It said it gave a stern warning to the Philippine vessels and monitored them throughout the process," said the CCG in a statement on Wednesday.

Flare-ups between China and the Philippines

This marks yet another flare-up in long-simmering territorial disputes between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest trade routes. China has reportedly surrounded the Second Thomas Shoal with coast guard ships and militia vessels to prevent the Philippines from delivering materials or supplies to reinforce the long-marooned BRP Sierra Madre there.

Last week, a 300 m-long floating barrier installed by China was removed at his command near the Bajo de Masinloc (BDM) shoal, also called the Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines strongly protested against this action and removed it the next day. The PCG said that Chinese vessels usually install floating barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fishermen in the area.

Last week, a Philippine BFAR ship and at least 54 Filipino fishing boats were ordered by four Chinese ships by radio to leave the territory, alleging that they were breaching Chinese and international law. The Philippines said that it was a routine patrol.

Philippines' claim over the 200-mile Scarborough Shoal lies was upheld by an arbitration decision in 2016 under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, China refused to recognise the 2016 arbitration ruling amid tense standoffs in the region.

Chinese coast guard ships have also blocked Filipino government vessels delivering supplies and personnel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, resulting in near-collisions that the Philippine government has condemned and protested.

In August, the Chinese Coast Guard allegedly used a water cannon to block a Filipino supply boat from delivering a new batch of troops, food, water and fuel to the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed waters.

China's aggression in the South China Sea has put it in conflict with many Asian countries. A major clash can also involve the United States, which has vowed to defend the Philippines if any Filipino forces, ships and aircraft are attacked.

In response to the US warning in August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “threatening China” by raising the possibility of activating the US-Philippine mutual defence treaty. Beijing has repeatedly warned the US not to meddle in regional territorial disputes.

China claims ownership over virtually the entire strategic waterway despite international rulings that invalidated Beijing's vast territorial claims, such as that in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body based in The Hague. China rejected that ruling.

China's unsubstantiated claims have put it at odds with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan and the situation has been regarded as an Asian flashpoint. 

Meanwhile, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr vowed to defend the country's waters against Chinese aggression last Friday. "We're not looking for trouble but what we'll do is to continue defending the maritime territory of the Philippines and the rights of our fishermen, who have been fishing in those areas for hundreds of years," he said.

The Philippines' repeated confrontations with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea have also been compounded by Marcos' decision to allow the expansion of US military presence under a defence pact in 2014, infuriating Chinese authorities.

(with agency inputs)

ALSO READ | "We're not looking for trouble but...' Philippines vows to defend waters against Chinese aggression


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