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China ships ‘harass’ PH anew

LATEST HARASSMENT. The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday released photos of a Chinese Coast Guard ship using its water cannon (upper left photo) to throw Filipino ships off course in their latest resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal. Overhead video also showed supply boats Unaizah Mae 1 (UM1) and M/L Kalayaan (inset photo) subjected to ‘extremely reckless and dangerous harassment’ at close proximity by CCG rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) inside the Ayungin Shoal lagoon, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said. PCG, NTF Photos
Rey E. Requejo, Vince Lopez & Macon Ramos-Araneta

Manila cries foul over water cannon use; Beijing calls it ‘control measures’

The Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard Friday of “dangerous harassment” of Filipino boats in the disputed South China Sea, including firing a water cannon and blocking vessels on a resupply mission.

The incident happened during a Philippine mission to deliver provisions to a tiny garrison on Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal), which is part of the Spratly Islands and within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

China deploys coast guard and other vessels to patrol the hotly contested region and asserts its claim to almost the entire South China Sea, in contravention of the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that found no legal basis for its expansive claims.

Manila said the Chinese coast guard and other vessels “recklessly harassed, blocked, executed dangerous maneuvers” as they tried to “illegally impede or obstruct” Friday’s mission.

A Chinese coast guard vessel had fired a water cannon against one of two supply boats, according to the Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

The supply mission was also the target of “extremely reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity” by Chinese boats inside the shoal, it said in a statement, adding that the Philippine vessels still managed to deliver their cargo.

China, however, said it “took control measures” against two Philippine transport boats and three coast guard vessels that it insisted—without legal basis—were in Chinese waters.

“The Philippines’ actions infringe on China’s territorial sovereignty,” China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said.

“We urge the Philippines to immediately stop its infringing actions.”

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, however, strongly condemned the aggressive actions of the Chinese coast guard, labeling it an”unprovoked act of hostility” that directly violates Philippine rights and international law, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The harassment, blocking, execution of dangerous maneuvers, and deployment of water cannons against unarmed vessels engaged in routine operations is not only dangerous but also a blatant disregard for the diplomatic processes we, as a nation, have consistently and firmly advocated for,” he said in a statement.

“It is a clear attempt to undermine the peace and stability of the region, and it cannot be tolerated,” Romualdez, the leader of the 300 plus-strong House of Representatives, said.

Demanding an immediate halt to “these intimidations,” the Speaker urged China to honor the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling that invalidated its expansive claims over the West Philippine Sea.

“We stand firm in our conviction that might does not make right. The Philippines, though a smaller nation, will not be cowed or bullied into submission,” the Leyte lawmaker said.

Ayungin Shoal is about 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

A handful of Filipino troops are stationed on the crumbling BRP Sierra Madre, which the Philippine Navy grounded on the reef in 1999 to check China’s advance in the waters.

The troops depend on the resupply missions for their survival.

The task force said the Philippine embassy in Beijing had lodged a protest with the Chinese foreign ministry over the latest incident, which it said had “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,” the statement said.

‘They are not being deterred’

Friday’s incident comes nearly three weeks after two collisions between Chinese and Philippine vessels during another resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, with the countries trading blame.

China’s intentions were clearly designed to “stop the resupply missions to the Sierra Madre,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

“The use of water cannons again is an indication of something like renewed aggressive tendencies… it’s like they are demonstrating that they are not being deterred by what we’ve been doing,” he said.

The Marcos administration has publicly criticized Chinese actions in the South China Sea and sought stronger security ties with Japan and the United States in the face of Chinese aggression in the waters.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that its claims to almost the entire sea have no legal basis.

China has instead ramped up patrols of the waters and reefs in the South China Sea over the past decade or so and built artificial islands that it has militarized to reinforce its assertion.

The Philippines has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratlys, including Ayungin Shoal.

As of Oct. 23, Manila has filed 465 diplomatic protests against Beijing since January 2020. Fifty-five of them were filed this year.

The NTF-WPS said China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel 5203 used a water cannon against the Philippine supply ship M/L Kalayaan to drive itaway during the resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

“Supply boats Unaizah Mae 1 (UM1) and M/L Kalayaan were also subjected to extremely reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity by CCG rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) inside Ayungin Shoal lagoon during their approach to BRP Sierra Madre,” the task force added.

Despite China’s actions, the supply boats were able to successfully reach the BRP Sierra Madre, the NTF-WPS said.

Ayungin Shoal is in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a signatory.

But China rejects that and says it has sovereignty over the Spratlys, which it calls the Nansha Islands.

Meanwhile, Economic Planning Secretary Aresenio Balisacan said the Philippines will launch five Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels worth $500 million through a Japanese government loan to improve its patrol capability in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Manila announced the project after a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who pledged in a speech that Japan would “continue to contribute to the enhancement of the Philippines’ security capabilities.”

The Philippines has been upgrading its maritime security assets and boosting ties with allies to counteract China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, including areas disputed by the two neighbors.

Balisacan told reporters the five 97-meter vessels will be delivered between 2027 and 2028, with funding worth P29.3 billion ($525 million) borrowed from Tokyo.

“The project will enable the coast guard to secure important sea lines of communication in the West Philippine Sea,” among others, he said, using the Philippine name for its claimed areas in the South China Sea.

Japanese official development assistance has played a key role in upgrading the capability of the Filipino coast guard.

Tokyo in recent years has financed the acquisition of two of the agency’s 97-meter, and 10 of its 44-meter, patrol vessels.

During the Manila visit last week, Kishida also announced Tokyo will provide the Philippines with a coastal radar surveillance system.

He and President Marcos also agreed to start negotiations for a defense pact that would allow the countries to deploy troops on each other’s territory.

PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan said President Marcos had emphasized the need to improve the PCG’s capability to enforce maritime laws in the country’s exclusive economic zones.

“With meaningful approval from the NEDA Board, the five-year integrated logistics support would allow us to enhance our maritime security operations, specifically in the West Philippine Sea, Southern Philippines, and Benham Rise,” Gavan said.

‘No remorse’

Also on Friday, Senator Risa Hontiveros deplored the latest incident of Chinese aggression.

“This pattern of abuse is one that China has mastered and will continue to follow without remorse,” noted Hontiveros.

At a time when tensions are high around the world, she said China’s bullying only aggravates international relations.

“Instead of promoting peace, she seems to favor conflict,” Hontiveros said.

She said China was not only an “abuser” but also a gaslighter.

“We, in government, must double down on our efforts to educate our public and campaign for the one and only truth: The West Philippine Sea is ours,” she said.

Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, said the latest actions of the Chinese Coast Guard undermines maritime safety and said they pose a direct threat to international peace and security.

“The continuous breach of China’s obligations under international law covering maritime affairs is hard to explain, while its motivations may be clear. Is this modern-day maritime piracy?” he added. — With AFP

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