Philippines labels China as an ‘aggressor’ fanning tensions in the South China Sea

October 23, 2023 - 2:24 PM
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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gestures as he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), at the House of Representative in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 24, 2023. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

 The Philippines on Monday called China an “aggressor”, accusingit of “increasing tensions” in the South China Sea and causing the collision that damaged one of Manila’s boats during a resupply mission.

No one was harmed when a Chinese coast guard ship and one of Manila’s smaller wooden resupply boats made contact on Sunday, but the incident has drawn international condemnation and expressions of concern from the United States.

“All incidents like this will bolster the case that it’s not the Philippines that’s the aggressor, but the other party, which is China,” Philippine foreign ministry spokesperson Teresita Daza told a joint news conference on Monday.

China’s coast guard said on Sunday there had been a “slight collision” between one of its ships and the Philippine boat while the coast guard was “lawfully” blocking the boat from transporting “illegal construction materials”.

It was not the first time that China’s coastguard, backed by its maritime militia boats, have interfered with the Philippines‘ resupply mission. On Aug. 5, a Chinese coastguard ship used a water cannon against a resupply boat.

The regular resupply missions are for Philippine troops living aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a former warship that Manila grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert its sovereignty claims.

The shoal, known in Manila as Ayungin and Renai Reef in China, is within the Philippines‘ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr held a security meeting on Monday to discuss “the latest violation by China” and ordered his country’s coast guard to investigate the incident, which his office said “is being taken seriously at the highest level of government”.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have grown under Marcos, who has complained about Beijing’s aggressive behavior and sought closer ties with traditional ally, the United States.

Maritime confrontations between Manila and Beijing have become a regular feature in the South China Sea, as both countries assert their territorial claims in the highly strategic waters.

The Philippines told China to stop “illegal” and “provocative” actions in the South China Sea, saying it should respect the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which said China’s expansive claims had no legal basis.

One of the images shared by the Philippine coast guard showed three of the four boats carrying out the resupply operation on Sunday surrounded by seven bigger Chinese coast guard vessels.

Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson at the Philippines‘ National Security Council, said China’s actions caused Sunday’s collision, even as Beijing’s embassy in Manila said the Philippine vessels were “trespassing” at the shoal.

“We are relieved and thankful that no Filipino personnel were harmed. But we are concerned by the escalation and provocations by Chinese vessels, who have no business being in the West Philippine Sea,” Malaya said.

– Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Ethan Wang in Beijing; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gerry Doyle