Philippines accuses China of more ‘harassment’ near disputed reef

July 6, 2023 - 4:59 PM
A Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly obstructs the Philippine Coast Guard vessel Malabrigo as it provided support during a Philippine Navy operation near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, June 30, 2023 in this handout image released July 5, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

 The Philippines on Wednesday accused China’s coast guard of harassment, obstruction and “dangerous maneuvers” against its vessels, after another incident near a strategic feature of the South China Sea that has become a flashpoint between them.

Philippine coast guard boats were assisting a naval operation on June 30 when they were “constantly followed, harassed, and obstructed by the significantly larger Chinese coast guard vessels”, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela, said in a Tweet.

It took place near the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef over which the Philippines stakes a claim to sovereignty via a handful of troops who live aboard a rusty World War Two-era American ship, which was intentionally grounded in 1999.

But China on Thursday said the Philippine coast guard had intruded into its waters without permission.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea via a “nine-dash line” on its maps that cuts into the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said that line has no legal basis.

“The Chinese coast guard vessels carried out law enforcement activities in accordance with the law to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference.

PCG’s Tarriela said the Philippine vessels had to reduce speed to prevent a collision, but Wang maintained China’s actions were “professional and restrained”.

Tarriela did not say what the naval operation entailed. The Philippine military conducts regular resupply missions for the troops on the U.S. ship, the Sierra Madre, including in February, when it accused China of aggression and directing a “military-grade laser” at of its vessels.

The shoal is located inside the Philippine EEZ. Tarriela described as “alarming” what he said was the presence of Chinese navy ships in the area, adding that raised “greater concerns”.

—Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Ethan Wang in Beijing; Editing by Martin Petty