China and the Philippines on Sunday accused each other of causing collisions in a disputed area of the South China Sea, the latest in a string of maritime confrontations between the two countries that have heightened regional tensions.
Philippine authorities said a Chinese Coast Guard ship carried out “dangerous blocking maneuvers” that caused it to collide with a Philippine vessel carrying supplies to troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, in the Spratly Islands chain. China’s move was “provocative, irresponsible and illegal” and “imperiled the safety of the crew” of the Philippine boats, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said.
In a second incident Sunday, the Philippine task force said a Chinese maritime militia vessel collided with a Philippine Coast Guard ship, which was on the same mission to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre. Manila grounded the navy transport ship on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 and has manned it with Filipino marines to enforce its claims to the area.
On Monday, Manila summoned China’s ambassador to the Philippines and filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing. “China as a major power bears a heavier responsibility of contributing to peace and stability in the region,” said a spokesperson for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.
Siding with its ally, the United States formally expressed concern in a statement that China’s foreign ministry said ignored the facts. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call with his Philippine counterpart Eduardo Ano on Monday, reiterated U.S. support for Manila following the incident, calling the Chinese maritime actions “dangerous and unlawful,” according to the White House.
Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said during a news conference that “Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels, in blatant violation of international law, harassed and intentionally hit” Manila’s supply boat and coastguard ship. “This is a serious escalation of the illegal activities conducted by the Chinese government in the West Philippine Sea in complete disregard of any norm or convention of international law,” Teodoro said after attending a security meeting called by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Teodoro also acknowledged “the support of our allies and like-minded nations such as the United States, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and European Union in condemning China’s aggression and expansionist actions.”
Since Marcos came to power in 2022, the Philippines has sought closer ties with its traditional ally, the United States, while lodging increasing complaints about China’s aggressive behaviour. In contrast to the more pro-China stance taken by the previous administration, Marcos’ government has filed 122 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea. Those incidents included attempts to block Philippines resupply missions and use of water cannon on Aug.
The regular resupply missions are for a handful of Philippine troops living aboard an aging warship that was deliberately run aground on the Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s sovereignty claims.
The uninhabited shoal, known in Manila as Ayungin and Renai Reef in China, is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and is strategically located on one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded in 2016 that Beijing’s expansive claim to the South China Sea was groundless. China maintains it does not accept any claim or action based on the ruling./.