Second Naval Confrontation Between China and Philippines in Two Days

Second Naval Confrontation Between China and Philippines in Two Days

(Photo - RICHARD A. REYES / Philippine Daily Inquirer)


The December 10 Incident:

A day after a violent confrontation between Chinese and Filipino ships, tensions in the region continue to escalate as another incident on Sunday drew a Chinese ship to fire water cannons on Philippine resupply vessels, ramming and causing “serious engine damage” to one of them.

The Filipino supply vessels Unaizah Mae 1 and ML Kalayaan, while being escorted by the Coast Guard’s (PCG) BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV 4407), were intercepted en route to a routine resupply mission. The incident escalated before the convoy was water-cannoned by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ship 5204 in an attempt to divert the group.

Both sides then accused the other of causing a collision between the PCG ship Unaizah Mae 1 and CCG vessel 21556. According to the Philippines, one of their ship’s engines were damaged in required towing back to port.

China defended their actions in a condemnation of the Philippines for violating China’s territorial sovereignty by illegally trespassing the waters adjacent to the Ren’ai Reef of China’s Nansha Islands to deliver supplies to what they see as an “illegally stranded warship”.

A Continuing Confrontation:

Chinese ships fiercely defend the area around the South China Sea, which they claim to control, in contrast to international law. In recent weeks, the number of incidents between Chinese vessels and those of neighboring nations has increased dramatically, to include confrontations with Vietnam, the United States, Australia, Japan, and most commonly, the Philippines.

On December 4, a US warship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), was confronted by Chinese vessels as it entered the disputed waters of the Second Thomas Shoal (Ren’ai Jiao) in the South China Sea. China stated the movement “infringes China’s sovereignty and safety, disrupts regional peace and stability, and violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.” However, the United States maintains that the vessel “was conducting routine operations in international waters in the South China Sea, consistent with international law,” adding that “the operations demonstrate we are committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Similar incidents have occurred multiple times with the Philippines, though often leading to more violent confrontations. On December 9, a day before the reported incident, the Chinese Coast Guard deployed water cannons to block the resupply of fishing ships near Scarborough Shoal, resulting in the damage of a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries vessel. The Chinese also deployed long-range sonar against the vessel, injuring some of the crew, according to the Philippines National Security Council.

Another notable incident was in October, when a Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and an accompanying supply ship heading towards the Sierra Madre, a beached ship-turned outpost. The incident was highly condemned by the United States and Philippines. China has repeatedly accused the Philippines of trespassing and carrying out illegal activities around this area.

Philippines Statement:

“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 Avungin Shoal that has put the lives of our people at risk. 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. Peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others. We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.

The Philippines continues to act in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Philippines will not be deterred from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones, including Akungin Shoal which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf.”

See the full statement here.

US Statement:

The United States State Department issued a statement in stark condemnation of the Chinese and solidarity with their Philippine allies:

“Outside Scarborough Reef on December 9 and again near Second Thomas Shoal on December 10, People’s Republic of China (PRC) ships employed water cannons and reckless maneuvers, including forcing a collision, causing damage to Philippine vessels undertaking official supply missions to those locations, and jeopardizing the safety of the Filipino crew.  The PRC ships at Scarborough Reef also used acoustic devices, incapacitating the Filipino crew members, and drove away Philippine fishing vessels.  By impeding the safe operations of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.  Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability.

These actions reflect not only reckless disregard for the safety and livelihoods of Filipinos, but also for international law.  As reflected in an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in July 2016, the PRC has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal, and Filipinos are entitled to traditional fishing rights around Scarborough Reef.  As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and the United States calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct.

The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of these dangerous and unlawful actions. We reaffirm that Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.”

Joshua Paulo
Joshua Paulo
Combining a Criminal Justice and International Relations background, Josh boasts years of experience in various forms of analysis and freelance journalism. He currently spearheads a team of professionals committed to delivering unbiased reporting to provide the public and private sector with accurate and insightful information. Josh serves as Atlas's Director of News.
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