Over 100 Chinese ships, including warships and Coast Guard vessels, were sighted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) during patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) from April 18 to 24.
In a statement, PCG claimed that BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo were home to more than 100 of her militia ships, two PLA corvette-class military ships, and two Chinese Coast Guard ships.
The PCG, one of two ships stationed in World War II, was operated by a detachment of Marines stationed in the Philippines near Ayungin Reef in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Chinese Coast Guard. released an update on the patrol almost a week later, after nearly colliding with the stranded transport ship of the era.
However, China’s foreign ministry said it was the PCG vessel that carried out “deliberate and provocative actions”.
Philippines said the vessel was catching four of her naval militia vessels about four nautical miles from Paguaça Island. However, 18 Chinese militia vessels spotted near Escorda Reef ignored Philippines radio requests and refused to leave the area.
A group of 17 Chinese naval militia ships near Julian Felipe Reef also ignored Philippines Coast Guard men dispatched on Zodiac boats to disperse them. On 21 April, a Chinese warship with heading number 549 radioed her PCG vessel about seven nautical miles off the island of Paguaça. The Philippines ships stood firm and urged the Chinese to leave the area.
On the morning of April 23, two Chinese Coast Guard vessels made a dangerous maneuver near Malapascua and Malabrigo near Ayungin Reef. One of the Chinese ships nearly collided with the Malapascua.
Philippines Coast Guard spokesman Brigadier General Jay Taliera said in a tweet that it is clearly the Chinese who are causing trouble in the South China Sea.
“China has claimed that the United States is escalating tensions in the South China Sea, and it will be interesting to see how China characterizes these actions. It appears to be conducting a dangerous operation that clearly jeopardizes the safety of the company,” he said.
Beijing says Philippines is responsible
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning, when questioned about the incident at a regular press conference yesterday, said the Philippine vessel entered without China’s permission. “In line with the law, China Coast Guard ships have defended China’s territorial integrity and maritime order while taking prompt action to avert potentially dangerous approaches and collisions with Philippine ships. The arrival of the Philippine ship into Ren’ai Jiao seas with journalists on board was an intentional and provocative act, deliberately intended to find fault and seize an opportunity to hype the incident,” Mao said.
Regular maritime patrols within its legal rights, Philippines affirms
Confirming the April 23 incident, the Philippines’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) again urged China to respect the its legal right to patrol the West Philippine Sea.
“First, I would like to emphasize that the Philippines has a legal right to conduct regular maritime patrols in its territorial waters and EEZ. One such mission was the 18–24 April deployment of BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua to the Western Philippine Sea. When an event is reported, the DFA waits for formal reports from the PCG and any other pertinent authorities. The incident report will be used to determine the proper diplomatic course of action.” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ma. Daza said at a press conference at the palace.
When asked if President Marcos had been briefed on the incident, Daza said the chief executive had followed his instructions to always protect the country’s interests.
“And on the South China Sea, the president has consistently said that we stand for sovereignty and defend sovereign rights and interests in the South China Sea. We will do that through diplomacy, military law enforcement, and public diplomacy.”
China’s interference with her two ships’ routine patrol missions, she argued, was completely incompatible with freedom of navigation.
Referring to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Daza said, “As set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), we will respect the Philippine right to the Western Philippine Sea and refrain from actions that may lead to undesirable incidents. I again ask China to do so.”
U.S. demands China has to cease bothering Philippine ships
The State Department denounced China’s “harassment and intimidation” of Philippine ships in the disputed waterway in a statement. Attacks against Philippine Coast Guard ships may be covered under the US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty, according to the US Statement of Support for the Philippines in the South China Sea.