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Ayungin resupply ship,China vessel collide

JOINT SCS SAIL. Naval ships from the Philippines, U.S., Canaday join Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) JS Kirisame during a Multilateral Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA) June 16, 2024 in the South China Sea.
Vince Lopez, Rex Espiritu & Rey E. Requejo

Ph rejects China’s ‘deceptive’ claims

Philippine and Chinese vessels collided near Ayungin Shoal, also called Second Thomas Shoal, in the West Philippine Sea, on Monday as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims over the disputed area.

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) claimed a Philippine resupply ship in the area had “ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side.”

Manila, in response, said it would “not dignify the deceptive and misleading claims of the China Coast Guard.”

The Philippine Coast Guard deployed two vessels – BRP Malapascua and BRP Sindangan to Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc. PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armando Balilo said the deployment was to ensure the safety of Filipino fisherfolk in the area amid China’s threat to arrest trespassers.

“The main issue remains… the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which infringes on our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” the Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement.

“The continued aggressive actions of the CCG are escalating tensions in the region,” the AFP added.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the AFP will continue to resist China’s dangerous and reckless behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights.” Teodoro said.

Ayungin Shoal has seen an escalating number of confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months.

These have often taken place during attempts to supply a garrison of Filipino troops on a grounded navy vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre.

The shoal lies about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan – well within the country’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone – and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

The Chinese coast guard said that the Philippine resupply ship “approached the… Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision.”

“The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law,” the CCG said.

Former United States Air Force official and maritime security expert Ray Powell said the phrase “control measures” usually indicates the use of water cannons.

“What I heard of was a collision and use of ‘control measures’ which is what the CCG has reported. Control measures, when the CCG uses these terms, often means water cannons. If it’s true, it’s not the first time we’ll see water cannons being used – not also the first time we’ll see a collision,” he said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Monday.

Powell said at least three CCG ships “running dark” were also in the vicinity of the shoal as of Monday morning, he added.

Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

Trillions of dollars in ship-borne trade passes through the South China Sea annually, and huge unexploited oil and gas deposits are believed to lie under its seabed, though estimates vary greatly.

This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area. It was the first time supplies had been seized, the AFP said.

Chinese personnel on the boats later dumped the items in the water, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said.

On Saturday, new Chinese coast guard rules took effect under which it can detain foreigners for alleged trespassing in the disputed sea

President Ferdinand Marcos earlier called the new rules a “very worrisome” escalation.

House Minority Deputy Leader France Castro said the collision was “part of China’s persistent unlawful presence and illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea.”

“We condemn in the strongest terms China’s shameless lies and continued bullying in our own maritime territories. The Marcos administration must take a firm stand in upholding our sovereignty and protecting our national patrimony from Beijing’s creeping invasion,” the lawmaker said.

As this developed, the Philippines, Japan, the United States, and Canada conducted Multilateral Maritime Cooperative Activity in the West Philippine Sea.

According to a statement released by the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines, the Philippine Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, US Navy, and Royal Canadian Navy affirmed their commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific during the joint exercises.

The AFP confirmed the maritime activity took place on June 16 within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“Japan is committed to strengthening its partnership with like-minded countries in upholding freedom of navigation and rule of law,” the Japanese Embassy statement said.

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