MANILA, Philippines – In “clear violation of Philippine sovereignty” a Chinese warship targeted a Philippine Navy vessel on patrol in the West Philippine Sea on February 17, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (Wescom) said on Thursday, April 23.
In a statement, the Palawan-based military unit confirmed and clarified the incident that was the subject of a diplomatic protest by the Philippine government filed with the Chinese embassy in Manila on Wednesday, April 22.
“This hostile act on the part of Chinese government and encroachment within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone is perceived as a clear violation of international law and Philippine sovereignty,” said AFP Wescom chief Vice Admiral Rene Medina.
The Philippine Navy corvette BRP Conrado Yap was on its third day of territorial defense operations and sovereignty patrol in the area of the Malampaya Natural Gas facility and the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) off Palawan when it detected a “radar contact” of a gray vessel – a warship – in its vicinity.
The Conrado Yap then issued a radio warning, to which the gray vessel responded, “The Chinese government has [immutable] sovereignty over the South China Sea, its islands and its adjacent waters.”
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and outlying territories within the South China Sea, including the KIG, a swathe of islets and reefs part of what’s internationally known as the Spratlys.
The crew of the Conrado Yap reiterated its challenge to the Chinese warship, “and then instructed to proceed directly to its next destination.”
The Chinese vessel, too, repeated its response and maintained its speed and course. The crew of the Conrado Yap identified it as a People’s Liberation Army - Navy (PLAN) corvette with bow number 514. The PLAN is the navy of the People’s Republic of China.
And then, the crew of the Conrado Yap “visually observed” that the Gun Control Director of the PLAN 514 was directed towards them.
“This Gun Control Director can be used to designate and track targets, and makes all the main guns ready to fire in under a second,” the AFP Wescom statement said.
Although the Conrado Yap does not have the electronic support measures to confirm that the PLAN 514’s Gun Control Director was aimed at it, “visual identification confirms this hostile intent.”
Both warships went on with their voyage with no further incident, which the AFP Wescom then reported to higher headquarters.
The incident can be characterized as the Chinese warship “targeting” the Philippine vessel, which is “unacceptable in common military practice because it is a hostile act that can lead to a miscalculation, and then to an escalation, and then ultimately, conflict,” said defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio, a former consultant of the National Security Council.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr protested the incident along with China’s declaring of parts of Philippine territory as part of its Hainan province.
The BRP Conrado Yap is the most powerful commissioned vessel of the Philippine Fleet. Built in 1987, it was donated by South Korea to the Philippines in August 2019. It was refitted with new controls and weaponry to make it the most lethal Philippine warship, ahead of two frigates expected to be delivered this year.
The incident on February 17 is one of several instances of China’s aggressive actions to claim and control the West Philippine Sea, along with the rest of the South China Sea.
On April 19, China announced new administrative districts covering the Spratlys and the Paracels, staking its political claim over the geographical features also claimed by other states.
On April 8, a China Coast Guard vessel rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracels, an area not claimed by the Philippines.
In March, China set up new research units on two reefs it earlier reclaimed and turned into military bases. It also landed a military transport plane on one of those reefs.
These actions violate the July 2016 international arbitral award based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and debunked China’s sweeping 9-dash claim over the strategic waterway. (READ: 'China owes us over P200 billion in West Philippine Sea damage' – Hontiveros)
Based in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, the AFP Wescom is at the forefront of securing and defending the West Philippine Sea. In its statement, it said it would “continue to perform its duty and will never be intimidated nor let our guard down in protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the Philippines, and will support any future capability upgrade of our ships patrolling our Philippine waters.” – Rappler.com