The Philippines and China have traded accusations over a collision of their vessels near a shoal in the South China Sea amid rising tensions in the disputed waters.
The latest incident took place near Second Thomas Shoal, which lies about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometres from China’s southern Hainan island.
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Tensions have risen around the Philippines regular resupply missions to Filipino soldiers stationed on the Sierra Madre, a warship deliberately grounded on the shoal in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ maritime claims.
The Philippine coast guard accused China of firing water cannons and ramming resupply vessels and a coast guard ship, causing “serious engine damage” to one, while China’s coast guard said the Philippine vessel intentionally rammed its ship.
China said the Unaizah Mae 1 “made an unprofessional and dangerous sudden turn, intentionally ramming into China Coast Guard vessel 21556”.
Spokesperson Gan Yu called on the Philippines to stop its “provocative acts”, saying Beijing would continue to carry out “law-enforcement activities” in the waters.
The Philippine coastguard spokesperson Jay Tarriela refuted Beijing’s claims, writing in a statement on the social media platform X that the “M/L Kalayaan suffered serious engine damage. Contrary to China Coast Guard disinformation, UM1 rammed by CCG vessel”.
Statement of the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea
December 10, 2023, Manila, Philippines
Today, 10 December 2023, China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous maneuvers on Philippine civilian supply vessels,… pic.twitter.com/NF66BqVPUM
— Jay Tarriela (@jaytaryela) December 10, 2023
Hours before Sunday’s incident, about 200 Philippine fishermen, youth leaders and civil society groups had joined a Christmas convoy to the area to deliver donations.
But the convoy’s organiser said the fishing boats decided to pull out as they “erred on the side of caution” due to the presence of Chinese boats.
The Philippines and China have a long history of incidents in the South China Sea, through which trade worth more than $3 trillion passes each year.
Sunday’s incident comes a day after Manila accused Beijing of firing water cannon at a civilian-operated government fishing vessel.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which is also claimed in part not only by the Philippines, but also by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The Philippines took its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, which found China’s claims had no legal basis.
Beijing has ignored the ruling.
China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines after a months-long stand-off in 2012.