- The China-Philippines conflict is the latest maritime conflict
- China’s coastguard says it intercepted Philippine ships ‘legally’
- The Manila Task Force says the conflict puts Filipino workers at risk
- US ambassador condemns China’s move, offers support to Manila
BEIJING/MANILA, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Chinese ships on Sunday blocked Philippine boats from supplying troops there, the latest in a series of maritime skirmishes, as China and the Philippines traded accusations of a collision in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
In recent months the two countries have been conducting numerous skirmishes in the South China Sea, particularly near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands.
The Philippines has sent supplies to troops stationed aboard a rusting World War II-era transport ship that was used as an outpost on the shoal, prompting China’s coast guard to send ships to intercept repeated supply missions.
In the early Sunday morning incident, China’s coast guard said there was a “minor collision” between one of its vessels and a Philippine boat, while the coast guard “legally” prevented the boat from transporting “illegal construction materials” to the warship.
Manila responded by “strongly” condemning the Chinese vessel’s “dangerous interceptor maneuvers”.
China’s “dangerous, reckless and illegal actions” are “against Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” Manila’s Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s claims had no legal basis.
“China is exercising great restraint and patience on this issue,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
China has long maintained strong ties with Manila, however, ignoring China’s goodwill, the ministry said in a statement.
It said China will continue to take necessary measures in accordance with domestic and international laws to protect its territorial sovereignty.
The United States sided with the Philippines and offered its ally support. In a statement on Sunday, the US State Department said China’s actions in the South China Sea were repeated “harassment” and that they were “dangerous and illegal”.
The Canadian and Japanese embassies in Manila also expressed support for the Philippines and warned of conflict. Luc Veron, the EU’s ambassador, said: “These incidents, repeated and aggravated, are dangerous and very worrying.”
Manila’s ties with Beijing have worsened under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has strengthened military engagement with Washington since taking office last year. The Pentagon said in May it would defend the Philippines if its coast guard was attacked “somewhere in the South China Sea.”
Last week, the Philippine military demanded an end to China’s “dangerous and aggressive” actions after a Chinese naval vessel shadowed and attempted to cut off a Philippine naval vessel on a resupply mission.
Sunday’s collision occurred during a routine resupply mission of a boat contracted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Manila said.
In another incident during the same redeployment mission, the port side of the Philippine Coast Guard was rammed by a Chinese maritime warship, it said.
The Chinese coast guard vessel’s actions “impeded the safety of the crew” of the Philippine boat, the task force said.
China’s coast guard said in a statement that the Philippine vessel “deliberately provoked trouble” by ignoring repeated warnings and overstepping the curve of the Chinese vessel, causing the collision.
“The Philippines’ conduct grossly violates international rules for avoiding conflicts at sea and threatens the navigational safety of our vessels,” the coast guard said.
Manila landed the BRP Sierra Madre warship in 1999 as part of its sovereign claim to the second Thomas Shoal, which lies within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Reporting by Ethan Wang, Bernard Orr and Ryan Wu in Beijing and Enrico Dela Cruz in Manila; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feist, Barbara Lewis and Jason Neely
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