Philippines-China relations

Philippine military says China ‘forcefully retrieved’ floating object in South China Sea

Rappler.com
Philippine military says China ‘forcefully retrieved’ floating object in South China Sea
(1st UPDATE) The incident occurs as US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on November 20 for talks aimed at reviving ties with Manila

MANILA, Philippines – A Chinese coast guard ship on Sunday, November 20, “forcefully retrieved” a floating object being towed by a Philippine vessel in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) by cutting a line attaching it to the boat, a Philippine military commander said.

Philippine naval authorities sent a vessel to examine the floating object after it was spotted early on Sunday about 800 yards (730 meters) west of Pag-asa island (Thitu island), Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the Western Command (WESCOM), said in a statement.

The team tied the object to their boat and started towing it before the Chinese coast guard vessel approached and blocked their course twice before deploying an inflatable boat that cut the tow line, then took the object back to the coast guard ship, the statement said.

The statement did not say what the object was or whether the Chinese coast guard vessel indicated why it took the object.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported a statement from WESCOM spokesperson Major Cherryl Tindog, which speculated the floating metal object appeared similar to other pieces of Chinese rocket debris recently found in Philippine waters.

Tindog also said the Filipino sailors did not fight the seizure of the floating object. “We practice maximum tolerance in such a situation,” Tindog said, adding that as the situation “involved an unidentified object and (was) not a matter of life and death, our team just decided to return.”

Shortly after the incident, a report from local police seen by Rappler said “repetitive sounds” believed to have come from “artillery guns/weapons” on Subi Reef were also heard by residents in Pag-asa island.

The sounds heard in intervals stretched from roughly 11 am to 3 pm on Sunday, according to officials who Rappler spoke to on condition of anonymity. Its source was still being verified.

Commenting on the incident, maritime law and South China Sea expert Jay Batongbacal said on Twitter that possible sources of the blast were “(a) weapons fire, e.g., artillery; (b) excavation in/around the reef; (c) accident involving weapons in storage.”

China’s embassy in the Philippines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident occurred as US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday for talks aimed at reviving ties with Manila, an Asian ally that is central to U.S. efforts to counter China’s increasingly assertive policies towards Taiwan.

Harris, whose three-day trip includes a stop to Palawan, an island on the edge of the South China Sea, will also reaffirm Washington’s support for a 2016 international tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claim in the disputed waterway, a senior US official said..

China claims most of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which billions of dollars of goods passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Pag-asa island is close to Subi Reef, one of seven artificial islands in the Spratlys on which China has installed surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

The island, one of nine features the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, is the Southeast Asian country’s strategically most important outpost in the South China Sea.

The Philippine foreign ministry said in a statement it would conduct a thorough review of the incident and was awaiting detailed reports from maritime law enforcement agencies. – with reports from Reuters and Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    The object which was already in the possession of the Philippine Navy vessel was taken by “force” by the Chinese Coast Guard right before the eyes of the Filipino sailors. This will emboldened the Chinese Coast Guard to carry out more acts of bullying towards our Philippine navy in the future.