China, Philippines trade accusations over South China Sea clash

China and the Philippines clashed in the South China Sea, tensions continue over disputed waters

Reuters October 22, 2023
A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS


China and the Philippines traded accusations over a collision in disputed waters of the South China Sea as Chinese vessels blocked Philippine boats supplying forces there on Sunday in the latest of a series of maritime confrontations.

The two countries have had numerous run-ins in the South China Sea in recent months, especially in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines has sent supplies to troops stationed on a rusted World War Two-era transport ship used as an outpost on the shoal, prompting China's coastguard to repeatedly deploy vessels to block the resupply missions.

In the incident early on Sunday, China's coastguard said there had been a "slight collision" between one of its ships and the Philippine boat while the coastguard was "lawfully" blocking the boat from transporting "illegal construction materials" to the warship.

Manila responded by condemning "in the strongest degree" the "dangerous blocking manoeuvres" of the Chinese vessel.

Read also: Risk of a military conflict in South China Sea

China's "dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions" were "in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction", Manila's Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China's claims had no legal basis.

The United States expressed support for the Philippines, denouncing China's "disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission".

"We stand with our #FriendsPartnersAllies in protecting Philippine sovereignty and in support of a #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific," Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson posted on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

Dangerous provocations

The Canadian and Japanese embassies in Manila also expressed support for the Philippines and alarm over the collision. The European Union's ambassador, Luc Veron, said: "These incidents, their repetition and intensification are dangerous and very disturbing."

Manila's relations with Beijing have soured under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has strengthened military engagement with Washington since taking office last year. The Pentagon said in May it would protect the Philippines if its coastguard came under attack "anywhere in the South China Sea".

Last week, the Philippine military demanded China stop its "dangerous and offensive" actions after a Chinese navy ship shadowed and attempted to cut off a Philippine navy vessel conducting a resupply mission.

China had warned the Philippines against further "provocations", saying such acts violated its territorial sovereignty.

The Philippines "will not be deterred" and will continue its regular resupply missions "despite provocations", said its national security adviser, Eduardo Año.

Sunday's collision occurred during a routine resupply mission of a boat contracted by the Philippine armed forces, Manila said.

Read: China near 'breakthroughs' with nuclear-armed submarines: report

In another incident during the same resupply mission, it said a Philippine coastguard vessel's port side was bumped by a Chinese maritime militia vessel.

"The provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action" of the Chinese coastguard vessel "imperilled the safety of the crew" of the Philippine boat, the task force said.

China's coastguard said in a statement the Philippine vessel had ignored repeated warnings, crossed the bow of the Chinese ship and "deliberately provoked trouble", causing the collision.

"The Philippines behaviour seriously violates the international rules on avoiding collisions at sea and threatens the navigation safety of our vessels," the coastguard said.

Manila grounded the BRP Sierra Madre warship in 1999 as part of its sovereignty claim to the Second Thomas Shoal, which lies within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.


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