Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Philippines rejects China’s claim its navy boat was driven away from disputed reef


The Philippines’ military chief on Tuesday rejected a claim that its navy vessel was driven away from a disputed reef in the South China Sea by the Chinese coast guard, calling it “Beijing’s propaganda.”

Early on Tuesday, the China Coast Guard said a Philippine Navy gunboat came into China’s “jurisdictional waters” near the Scarborough Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

“On Oct. 10, a Philippine Navy gunboat intruded into the waters adjacent to China’s Huangyan Island, ignoring China’s repeated warnings,” Chinese Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said in a statement, using the Chinese name for a shoal the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc.

Gan said that China Coast Guard ships “took necessary measures, such as tracking and controlling the ship’s route, to drive away the Philippine vessel according to the law.”

Beijing’s claim – which comes against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between the neighbors – was rejected by the Philippines’ top military commander, who denied such an incident had taken place. 

“That is just propaganda from Beijing … to show that they are doing something,” Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. told BenarNews on Tuesday.

A Philippine navy boat was in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc, but it was carrying out a maritime patrol. 

It was sailing and it just so happened that the China Coast Guard was there and we issued a challenge,” Brawner said. “Our ship continued with its mission.

He added the boats were “far” away from each other.

Both Beijing and Manila claim sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, which China seized after a standoff with the Philippines in 2012 and has maintained control over since.

A United Nations arbitration tribunal in 2016 had dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including shoal, but Beijing has refused to recognize it.

Gan accused the Philippines of violating China’s sovereignty over the shoal, adding: “We call on the Philippines to immediately stop its infringement.” 

On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also warned Manila against “making provocations and creating trouble at sea.”

The ministry was responding to a statement by the Philippines on Saturday that China’s “unfounded” claims in the South China Sea and Beijing’s actions in the waterway were “irresponsible.”

‘Stirring up trouble’

This week, U.S. and Philippine warships are conducting a bilateral training exercise called Samasama (Together) 2023 in the waters off the Philippines. The exercise, joined by several other U.S. allies, is seen as a testament of the strong bond between the two militaries.

“Currently, the Philippines is at the vanguard of challenging China at sea, much more aggressive than any other party including the United States,” said Beijing-based think tank, the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI), in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Wait and see,” it added in a thinly veiled threat, “The Scarborough Shoal Incident in 2012 is a wake-up call for both China and the Philippines.” 

The 2012 standoff began on April 8, 2012 after the Philippine Navy attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen for alleged illegal fishing in the waters near Scarborough Shoal, but the attempt was blocked by Chinese maritime surveillance ships.

Naval vessels from both sides were deployed in the standoff that lasted more than two months. The Philippines pulled its two ships out on June 15, 2012, but China kept its ships at the shoal.

It is now one of the region’s most contested maritime features and a flash point between China and the Philippines in the contested South China Sea. 

Most recently, in late September, the Philippines said China had installed a 300-meter (984-foot) floating barrier to block Philippine fishermen from accessing the waters around the shoal. 

The Philippine coast guard carried out a “special operation” to cut the barrier and remove its anchor.


The risk of confrontation has also risen in recent days over another disputed atoll in the South China Sea, known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines, which calls it Ayungin Shoal, maintains a military post there with fewer than a dozen marines stationed on a rusty WWII-era landing craft, the BRP Sierra Madre. 

Manila has accused China of regularly blocking its resupply missions to the troops on the Sierra Madre, including by firing a water cannon at one of the Philippine boats delivering goods to the outpost in August.

The Chinese name for the atoll is Ren’ai Jiao.

Six parties – China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan – claim parts of the resource-rich South China Sea, but Beijing’s is by far the most extensive, covering nearly 90% of the sea.





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