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Chinese fire water cannons at Philippine Coast Guard in disputed sea

Philippine Coast Guard (Rhk111/WikiCommons)
August 12, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Manila on Sunday protested the China Coast Guard’s use of water cannons against a Philippine Coast Guard vessel escorting civilian supply boats delivering goods to a military post in the South China Sea.

The Filipino vessels were on a mission Saturday to deliver food, water, fuel and other supplies to troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre when the incident occurred near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). The World War II-era naval ship was deliberately run aground in the shoal in 1999 to serve as the country’s military post there.

Manila “strongly condemns the China Coast Guard’s (CCG’s) dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons against the PCG vessels escorting the indigenous boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines yesterday, 05 August 2023,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said in a statement. 

Tarriela said the action disregarded the safety of Filipino sailors and violated international law, including a 2016 arbitral award in favor of Manila that nullified China’s claims to the South China Sea.

“The PCG calls on the China Coast Guard to restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident,” he said.

The Philippines also demanded that Beijing “cease all illegal activities within the maritime zones of the Philippines,” Tarriela said.

Armed forces spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said that because of the Chinese harassment, the second Filipino supply supply boat was unable to unload its supplies and could not complete the mission.

“We call on the China Coast Guard and the Central Military Commission to act with prudence and be responsible in their actions to prevent miscalculations and accidents that will endanger peoples’ lives,” Aguilar added.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has not responded to reporters’ requests for comment. But Chinese media reports quoted the Chinese Coast Guard as confirming the incident and saying the two Filipino supply ships were carrying “illegal building materials.

“CCG carried out necessary management and control in accordance with law and blocked the Philippine ships carrying illegal building materials. China urges the Philippine side to stop its encroachment in the sea area immediately,” Global Times quoted CCG spokesperson Gan Yu as saying.

The U.S. Department of State said that Chinese ships clearly interfered with the Philippines’ “lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.” It noted that the action was the latest in a string of “repeated threats” to the status quo in the South China Sea.

“The United States calls upon the PRC (China) to abide by the arbitral ruling as well as to respect freedom of navigation – a right to which all states are entitled,” the department said in a statement late Saturday.

“The United States reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft and armed forces – including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea – would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty,” it said.

China’s action came after lawmakers last week unanimously adopted a resolution condemning China’s continued harassment of Filipino fishermen and its persistent incursions in the contested waters.

The resolution, which expresses the sentiment of the upper chamber but is non-binding, also urged the Philippine government “to take appropriate action in asserting and securing” the country’s sovereign rights, and “to call on China to stop its illegal activities.”

“This bipartisan effort tells the Filipino people that when it comes to matters of national sovereignty, we will never be bullied into submission,” said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the senators who filed the resolution.

On Sunday, Hontiveros called on the international community to condemn the latest incident. She also said that it may be high time for the Philippines, as well as other claimant countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, to work together on joint patrols against China. Indonesia has a separate dispute with China, while Taiwan is also a party to the South China Sea wrangling.

Just weeks earlier, the Philippine Coast Guard accused its Chinese counterpart of dangerous maneuvers that could have caused a collision during a resupply mission also on Ayungin Shoal.

In that incident, two China Coast Guard vessels intercepted Philippine patrol boats and “exhibited aggressive tactics” and at one point, the Chinese vessel came to just 50 yards of a Philippine vessel.

On April 21, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel with the bow number 549 crossed paths with Philippine vessels near Pag-asa Island, while in February another Chinese Coast Guard ship directed a military-grade laser light twice at a Filipino ship, causing temporary blindness to the crew at the bridge.