China Coast Guard Destroy Supplies for Personnel Stationed at Second Thomas Shoal

On June 3rd, the Philippine media outlets released details about three incidents that occurred between the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Philippine Navy (PN) personnel stationed at Second Thomas Shoal (STS) on May 19th and May 24th. The details were released after Chinese state media outlet CGTN posted a video on social media that claimed to show several PN personnel pointing various firearms at CCG boats that sailed near the BRP Sierra Madre on May 19th.

Parachutes of airdropped supplies after leaving BN-2A on May 19th (Photo: Screenshot/CTGN)

Incidents at Second Thomas Shoal

The first of the three incidents occurred on May 19th, after a PN BN-2A light transport aircraft conducted an airdrop of food and other supplies to the personnel on the vessel. CCG vessels deployed four “rubber boats” that stationed themselves near the BRP Sierra Madre before the airdrop occurred. The CCG dinghies reached the supplies after the airdrop occurred and proceeded to open and scatter them into the waters to prevent the PN personnel from eating or using the provisions. Some of the Chinese coastguardsmen reportedly took some of the supplies for themselves. The CCG personnel also recorded a 33-second video that showed Philippine personnel allegedly pointing various firearms at the boats.

Image of Philippine sailor allegedly pointing a firearm at China Coast Guard personnel as they neared the BRP Sierra Madre (Photo: Screenshot/CTGN)

The second incident occurred when two CCG boats and four rubber boats harassed a medical evacuation mission sailing to the shoal to “provide medical assistance” to sick sailors. At least one of the CCG vessels attempted to damage one of the Philippine dinghies by blasting its outboard motor with its water cannon. A Chinese boat rammed and damaged the engine guard of one of the Philippine dinghies. However, another source said that the CCG harassed the ships but attempted to block a personnel transfer between PN vessels and a small Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) boat. Philippine authorities reported that no PCG personnel were injured from ramming or water cannon blasts. On May 24th, the final incident occurred when a CCG vessel drove a Philippine fishing boat away from the STS with its water cannons.

Image of Philippine sailor allegedly pointing a firearm at China Coast Guard personnel as they filmed the encounter near Second Thomas Shoal (Photo: Screenshot/CTGN)

Philippines’ Reaction

Various Philippine agencies and groups reacted to the three incidents, condemning the CCG’s actions and denying that PN personnel pointed firearms at the Chinese boats. Several Philippine Senators condemned the CCG’s actions at STS via statements or press conferences. Senator Rise Hontiveros said in a statement that the May 19th incidents have “no respect for the sovereignty of the Philippines; they have also shown no respect for their fellow human beings.” Senator Ramon Revilla compared China’s activities to “piracy in the sea” in a separate statement.

Revilla also said that the Philippines “will not cede any inch of our territory and territorial rights, and we are taking notice of the bullying and provocations against our countrymen and our nation.” Senator Sonny Angara said the CCG’s actions endangered “the lives of our Filipino troops stationed at the Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal] and could be deemed a violation of their human rights.” Senator Joel Villanueva also countered China’s narrative during a press conference on June 3rd. Villanueva said that China’s narrative surrounding PN personnel pointing firearms at CCG personnel is “ridiculous” and “unfounded.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, General Romeo Brawner Jr. statement about Philippine Navy personnel pointing firearms at China Coast Guard personnel on May 19th (Photo: X/@TeamAFP)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, General Romeo Brawner Jr., also denied China’s allegations during an interview. Brawner said that the AFP “talked with our servicemen, and they denied pointing their rifles at the Chinese. They didn’t raise their weapons but just held them because of the right to self-defense.” The Chief of Staff said that the personnel have a right to defend themselves since the BRP Sierra Madre “is a commissioned navy vessel” and it is authorized to have crew served and individual weapons on board.

Furthermore, the personnel have rules of engagement that they follow while they are on board the landing ship. The AFP also released a statement that echoed Brawner’s comments made during the interview. However, the statement stated that the personnel acted with the “highest level of professionalism, restraint, and discipline in the performance of their mission to safeguard our sovereignty and sovereign rights.” The statement said that the personnel were on alert due to how close the CCG boats were to the landing ship and because of the CCG’s “provocative presence” near the Seirra Madre.

Analysis

The incidents illustrate China’s willingness to increase efforts to prevent the PN personnel station at the shoal from receiving supplies to force the Philippines to withdraw from the feature. Furthermore, the video that shows PN personnel on board the Sierra Madre purposely pointing firearms at the CCG vessels is part of China’s narrative that the Philippines is increasing tensions in the South China Sea (SCS). In December 2023, CCG vessels began to purposely target the resupply vessels by ramming or spraying the ships with water cannons.

The damaged vessels would then have to undergo lengthy repairs to make them seaworthy again. The long repair times would mean the Philippines would be forced to resupply the vessels through other means. While the Philippines could expand the number of ships it uses beyond the three resupply vessels the PCG normally uses, it would be extremely hesitant to do so, even on a temporary basis. The increased risk would come as the CCG and China Maritime Militia (CMM) harassed or shadowed the civilian vessels the PCG temporarily used to resupply the detachment.

Another alternative is to use the PN, or Philippine Air Force (PAF), to conduct airdrops to send provisions to the sailors on board the Sierra Madre. The PN previously airdropped supplies to the detachment when the PCG canceled the missions due to issues with the three vessels used. The most recent airdrop occurred in January 2024 when a PN BN-2A airdropped supplies to the STS since the Unaizah Mae 1 had “technical issues.” However, the CCG vessels that were in the area during the airdrop did not intercept or interfere with the drop.

The CCG’s different responses to both the January and May airdrops indicate that China will now intercept and destroy the drops. The destruction of the food supplies would prevent the Philippine sailors from receiving the necessary supplies to survive on the landing ship. Secondly, the destruction of the provisions will force the PN and PAF to increase the number of airdrops they conduct to provide an adequate level of supplies to the detachment. China hopes to increase the time and costs associated with maintaining the aircraft by increasing the number of airdrops both military branches conduct.

China released the video of the PN personnel allegedly pointing firearms at the CCG vessels to push the narrative that the Philippines is increasing tensions in the SCS. China chose to release the video on June 2nd as a rebuff to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31st. During the speech, Marcos made comments that showed the Philippines as a “responsible and law-abiding member of the international community” while disparaging China’s actions in the SCS. The video serves as a counter to Marcos’ comments that the Philippines is a “law-abiding member” of the international community. Furthermore, the video also sought to portray the Philippines as the country responsible for increasing tensions in the SCS. However, the video did not show the Philippine sailors aiming their rifles at the Chinese coastguardsmen but held them in a low ready position, which is likely part of their rules of engagement. Furthermore, the video’s clarity also allowed China to say the Philippine sailors pointed firearms while not providing any verifiable proof.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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