Philippines reports ‘confrontation’ with China in South China Sea

Philippines Coast Guard accuses China of engaging in ‘dangerous maneuvers’ around Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has said two of its vessels were involved in a “confrontation” with the Chinese navy in the disputed South China Sea and accused the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) of engaging in “dangerous maneuvers” at Second Thomas Shoal, a long-running flashpoint between the two countries.

The first incident occurred when the Chinese navy ship “crossed paths” with the coastguard boats 7 nautical miles (13km) from Pag-asa Island on April 21, the PCG said in a statement on Friday. The rock in the disputed Spratly Islands, also known as Thitu Island, was occupied by the Philippines in the 1970s and is now home to as many as 400 people.

The coastguard said the confrontation began when the Chinese corvette ordered the PCG vessels to leave, and suggested that failure to comply might “cause [a] problem”.

The statement said the PCG vessels “did not back down and responded by asserting their rights to carry out operations within the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island”. and asked the Chinese navy to leave.

The second incident took place two days later near Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines.

On this occasion, the PCG ships were intercepted by two CCG ships that “exhibited aggressive tactics”, the PCG statement said.

One of the Chinese ships “was reported to have carried out dangerous maneuvers … maintaining a perilous distance of only 50 yards”, it said.

“This close proximity posed a significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew,” the statement said, noting that the second Chinese ship closely monitored the movements of the other PCG ship at a distance of about 640 metres (700 yards).

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling brought by the Philippines that there was no historical basis for its claim.

Since the 2016 ruling, it has reinforced its presence in the waterway, expanding and developing military outposts and deploying fishing fleets, its maritime militia and the coastguard.

The PCG statement said its ships had also encountered more than 100 alleged Chinese militia vessels during their weeklong patrol of shoals and features around the West Philippine Sea, which ended on April 24.

As well as China and the Philippines, states including Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as self-ruled Taiwan have claims on the South China Sea.

The Philippines in February accused China of using a powerful laser against one of its ships on a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal and lodged a protest.

The shoal lies about 195km (121 miles) northwest of the Philippine province of Palawan in the disputed Spratly Islands, and is home to a small group of Philippine soldiers who are living on board a rusting second world war-era ship known as the Sierra Madre, which was deliberately grounded there in 1999 to underline the Philippines’ claim to the island chain.

CCG patrols were also involved in a serious confrontation with Vietnamese vessels near key Vietnamese gas and oil fields last month, while tensions have been building too near Malaysia’s Kasawari gas development project, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

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