Photo: Ted Aljibe Agence France-Presse A Philippine coast guard ship (center) escorts a civilian supply boat in the South China Sea on August 22.
The Philippines and China accused each other on Sunday of two collisions between Chinese ships and Philippine boats on a mission to resupply Manila's troops at 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.
“Chinese Coast Guard Vessel 5203's dangerous blocking maneuvers caused it to collide with the supply boat… contracted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” a government task force said.
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 “, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing the Foreign Ministry.
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 vessel.”
Beijing, however, accused the Philippine boat of having “deliberately” caused a collision by backing up in a “premeditated” manner towards a Chinese fishing vessel.
Video released by the Philippine military shows the bow of the Chinese coast guard vessel and the stern of the supply ship briefly touched. Then, the Philippine ship continued its journey without it being possible to determine whether there had been any damage.
The 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 beaching a military boat, the BRP Sierra Madre, on the atoll, with the aim of making it an outpost and asserting their claims to sovereignty against China.
The ship has since been a source of tension between Beijing and Manila. The Philippine Marines on board depend on resupply missions to survive.
In its statement, Manila said a second resupply ship was able to reach the BRP Sierra Madrefailed and “successfully resupplied our troops and personnel stationed there.”
“The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea strongly condemns the latest dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions carried out this morning by the CCG [Chinese Coast Guard] and the Chinese Maritime Militia,” the statement added.< /p>
He also claims that the Chinese coast guard vessel endangered the safety of the crew of the supply boat.
Condemnation from Washington< /h2>
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.
China has declared that “the responsibility for Sunday's incidents lies squarely with the Philippines.”
As Beijing asserts its sovereignty over these waters, officials and experts have warned of the risks collision.
“This is exactly the kind of event that can happen given their dangerous maneuvers,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.
Mr. Batongbacal believed that the Chinese coast guard deliberately hit the Philippine supply ship to test the resolve of the United States and see how Manila would react.
“You don't accidentally hit another ship on the open sea », he stressed to Agence France-Presse.
The Philippines, a long-time ally of the United States, 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,” which put “the lives of members of the Philippine Armed Forces at risk.”
“These incidents, their repetition and their intensification are dangerous and very worrying,” declared Luc Veron, ambassador of the European Union, on X.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing exacerbated in August when ships Chinese coast guard 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 collide with a much smaller Philippine Coast Guard vessel in the same area