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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard on Wednesday, July 5, said Chinese ships “harassed” and blocked Filipino vessels that accompanied the Philippine Navy for a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
Speaking at state-run PTV-4’s Laging Handa briefing, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said the Chinese ships “came close to [Philippine] vessels” during the mission on June 30.
He said the two PCG boats were “constantly followed, harassed, and obstructed by the significantly larger Chinese coast guard vessels,” in a separate statement.
Because the Chinese vessels were so close, Tarriela said the two PCG ships were forced to decrease their speed, even as they both responded to radio challenges from China and issued challenges of their own.
At one point, said Tarriela, Chinese maritime militia tried to block Filipino ships from coming closer to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, or the part of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
One of the ships, said the Philippine Coast Guard official, had come from Bajo de Masinloc.
“The PCG has expressed concerns regarding the behavior of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels (CCGVs). It appears that the CCGVs are exerting additional effort to prevent the PCG from reaching Ayungin Shoal,” said Tarriela in a statement.
Manila also said they were “deeply concerned” about Chinese Navy ships near Ayungin Shoal. “This is particularly alarming as the Philippine Navy’s naval operation is solely humanitarian in nature. Despite this, the Chinese have deployed their warships, raising even greater concerns,” added the PCG.
The resupply mission was successful, and both the Philippine Coast and Philippine Navy soon returned to their original areas of operation.
But China on Thursday, July 6, said the Philippine coast guard had intruded into its waters without permission.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea via a “nine-dash line” on its maps that cuts into the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said that line has no legal basis.
“The Chinese coast guard vessels carried out law enforcement activities in accordance with the law to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference.
China still claims most of the South China Sea, despite an Arbitral Tribunal Ruling that rejected China’s all-encompassing claim on the resource-rich waters.
Although relations between Beijing and Manila are warming under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Chinese vessels continue to assert their claim in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard has repeatedly made public China’s aggressive moves in the volatile waterway. – With a report from Reuters/Rappler.com