MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines accused Beijing of employing “bullying” tactics Saturday after a speeding Chinese ship allegedly veered dangerously close to two Philippine vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
No one was hurt but “these manoeuvres by the Chinese vessel posed a danger to the Philippine vessels”, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.
“Our ships did not react to the bullying,” he added.
The incident took place near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea where Chinese fisheries vessels have been facing off against Philippine ships for weeks over which country claims the area.
In Saturday’s incident, the Chinese vessel speeded past two Philippine coast guard ships at more than 20 knots (37 kilometers per hour), creating a high wave that buffeted the vessels.
This is the most serious event since the standoff began on April 8 when the Philippines attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen in the shoal for poaching, only to be blocked by Chinese ships.
China has warned the Philippines against internationalising the dispute over the shoal, about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.
In a separate development, energy undersecretary Jose Layug said the Philippines was planning more oil and gas exploration in the disputed region despite China’s growing aggressiveness.
“The Chinese are claiming [these areas] but we have said repeatedly that (they are) well within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines,” he told ABS-CBN television in an interview.
Experts say the overlapping claims are a potential flashpoint that could destabilize regional security.