The Philippines and China accused each other on Sunday of two collisions between Chinese ships and Philippine boats on a troop resupply mission from Manila on an isolated post in the disputed South China Sea.
The incidents occurred in the Spratlys, about 25 kilometers from the Second Thomas Shoal Atoll, where the Philippine Navy is stationed and where Beijing deploys ships to assert its claims to almost the entire sea.
“The dangerous blocking maneuvers of Chinese Coast Guard Ship 5203 caused it to collide with the supply boat… contracted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” a group said government work.
For its part, China claimed that the “mild collision” occurred after the supply boat ignored “multiple warnings and deliberately crossed law enforcement in an unprofessional and dangerous manner”, reported state broadcaster CCTV, citing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In another incident, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel escorting the resupply mission was “struck” by what the task force described as a “Chinese maritime militia ship”.
Beijing, however, accused the Philippine boat of having “deliberately” caused a collision by backing up in a “premeditated” manner towards a Chinese fishing vessel.
A video released by the Philippine army shows that the bow of the Chinese coast guard ship and the stern of the supply ship briefly touched each other. Then, the Philippine ship continued its journey without it being possible to determine whether there had been any damage.
Second Thomas Atoll is about 200 km from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 km from the nearest large Chinese island, Hainan.
In 1999, the Philippines deliberately ran a military boat, the BRP Sierra Madre, aground on the atoll, with the aim of making it an outpost and asserting its claims to sovereignty over China.
The Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre ran aground on April 23, 2023, near the Second Thomas Shoal Atoll, in the Spratly Islands, in the disputed South China Sea © AFP – Ted ALJIBE
The ship is from a source of tensions between Beijing and Manila. The Philippine Marines on board depend on resupply missions to survive.
In its statement, Manila said a second supply ship was able to reach the stranded BRP Sierra Madre and “successfully resupply our troops and personnel stationed there.”
“The task force National Committee for the West Philippine Sea condemns in the strongest possible terms the latest dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions carried out this morning by the CCG (Chinese Coast Guard, editor's note) and the Chinese maritime militia,” the statement added.
It also claims that the Chinese coast guard vessel endangered the safety of the crew of the supply boat.
-Washington condemns the “latest disturbance” –
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea despite the rival claims of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, ignoring a 2016 international judgment against it.
Disputed areas in the South China Sea © AFP – Source AFP
China declared that “responsibility for Sunday's incidents lies entirely with the Philippines.”
As Beijing asserts its sovereignty over these waters with ever greater confidence, officials and experts have warned of the risks of collision.
“This is exactly the kind of event that can happen given their dangerous maneuvers,” observed Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.
Mr. Batongbacal said the Chinese coast guard deliberately struck the Philippine supply ship to test the United States' resolve and see how Manila would respond.
“You don't accidentally hit another ship in the open sea,” he stressed to AFP.
The Philippines, a long-time US ally, has outposts on reefs and islands in the Spratlys, including the Second Thomas Shoal.
US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson said that the United States condemned “China's latest disruption of a lawful Philippine resupply mission” that put “the lives of members of the Philippine Armed Forces at risk.”
“These incidents, their repetition and their intensification are dangerous and very worrying”, reacted for his part Luc Veron, ambassador of the European Union, on August when Chinese coast guard ships used water cannons against a Philippine resupply mission on the reef, preventing one of the boats from delivering its cargo.
In April, a Chinese ship narrowly missed colliding with a much smaller Philippine Coast Guard vessel in the same area.
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