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PALAWAN, Philippines – The Philippines said on Friday, November 10, that Chinese ships deployed water cannons and attempted to block vessels on a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, its outpost in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
Despite the harassment, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said Manila was able to complete its mission.
In a statement, the task force said China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels “recklessly harassed, blocked, [and] executed dangerous maneuvers” against Philippine vessels on Friday.
CCG vessel 5203 reportedly deployed a water cannon against Philippine supply vessel M/L Kalayaan at around 7:30 am in an attempt to block the mission. CCG rigid-hulled inflatable boats also harassed Unaizah Mae 1 and M/L Kalayaan in close proximity during their approach to BRP Sierra Madre inside the Ayungin Shoal lagoon.
“We condemn, once again, China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, that has put the lives of our people at risk,” the statement read.
“The systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue,” the task force added.
The Philippines through its embassy in Beijing lodged a diplomatic protest following China’s harassment. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs also reached out to its counterpart to convey the protest through the Maritime Communications Mechanism.
The latest resupply mission comes weeks after an October 22 mission that was only partially completed after two collision incidents in the open sea. During that mission, the Unaiza May 2 collided with a China Coast Guard ship while the BRP Cabra collided with a Chinese Maritime Militia vessel. It was the first time that ships owned or contracted by the Philippine government collided with Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea, or part of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Encounters such as the November 10 incident have become a constant in resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre. There have also been tenser instances. In February 2023, weeks after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. embarked on a state visit to Beijing, China used a military-grade laser against a PCG ship, putting its crew in danger.
An August 2022 resupply mission was also disrupted when China Coast Guard ships used water cannons against the Philippines.
In those three instances, the Philippines summoned China’s top envoy in Manila and filed protests through its own envoy in Beijing. The Philippines also made it a point to make those summons public.
Tensions have also been high in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China. But they’ve stepped up in recent months, as Manila grows more assertive in its claim and rights in those waters.
China’s coast guard on Friday urged the Philippines to stop infringing on Beijing’s sovereignty immediately.
China claims practically all of the South China Sea, evidenced by its controversial nine-dash line that’s since expanded to a 10-dash line. A 2016 arbitral tribunal, following a 2013 challenge from the Philippines, declared the 9-dash line invalid but Beijing has ignored this award.
In a second statement late on Friday, the Chinese coast guard said that the Philippine vessels had insisted on “rushing into” the area in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner, and that it approached the vessels for verification purposes.
Marcos, in his first State of the Nation Address, promised that “not an inch” of Philippine territory would be lost until his watch.
Manila has been increasingly known for its push to broadcast to the world China’s aggressive actions, including its dangerous manuevers, in the South China Sea.
The PCG and AFP, among other agencies, have made it a point to embed media during these resupply missions while making videos and images showing China’s actions readily available and widely-distributed.
“The Philippines will not be deterred from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones, including Ayungin Shoal which forms part of our [EEZ] and continental shelf,” the NTF-WPS said on Friday.
It’s a dramatic change from six years under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who promised a “pivot” to China and good ties with Beijing as he repositioned the Philippines away from traditional partners like the United States. – Bea Cupin and Kaycee Valmonte with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com