Another water cannon blast from Chinese ship
The Philippines said a Chinese ship again fired a water cannon to impede a routine resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, the country’s military outpost on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Friday.
Manila also filed fresh diplomatic protests against China’s latest “acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers,” and called out Beijing’s “insincerity” in its call to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea.
But despite the harassment, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said Unaizah May 1 and ML Kalayaan, the two supply boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, were able to successfully reach the ship and complete the rotational and reprovisioning (Rore) mission.
In a statement, the NTF-WPS said China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese maritime militia vessels “recklessly harassed, blocked, executed dangerous maneuvers” to obstruct the Rore mission to Ayungin.
CCG vessel 5203 deployed a water cannon against ML Kalayaan in an illegal though unsuccessful attempt to force the Filipino vessel to alter course, it said.
It was the same CCG ship that hit Unaizah May 2 during a similar mission on Oct. 22, which caused “small” damage to the civilian wooden boat.
The supply boats were also subjected to extremely reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity by the CCG’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats
“We condemn, once again, China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, that has put the lives of our people at risk,” the NTF-WPS said.
“The systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue,” it added.
The CCG said the Philippine vessels were “trespassing” into the shoal, which China considers part of its territory.
Despite this, the CCG said it made “temporary special arrangements for the Philippines to deliver food and other daily necessities” to the Sierra Madre.
The CCG statement did not respond to the specific allegations by Manila against its actions.
It said that its ships “tracked and monitored” and “took regulatory measures” in response to the Filipino vessels’ “act of infringement upon China’s territorial sovereignty.”
“The China Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement actions in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with the law, resolutely safeguarding national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” it said.
A Rore mission on Aug. 5 was interrupted after the CCG fired water cannons on one supply boat and a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship serving as an escort vessel.
The incident forced the supply boat hit by the water cannon to return to Palawan mainland. A second managed to reach the troops on the Sierra Madre with fresh supplies.
According to the NTF-WPS, the Philippine Embassy in Beijing has “demarched” the Chinese foreign ministry against these actions.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has also conveyed its protest directly through the Maritime Communications Mechanism.
PH ‘acted responsibly’
“We firmly insist that Chinese vessels responsible for these illegal activities leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately,” it said.
The Philippines said it “acted responsibly,” consistent with international law following the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2016 arbitral award.
“President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. commends the courage, commitment, and dedication to duty of the men and women of the Philippine Navy-Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine Coast Guard who go on these missions, placing their lives on the line in the service of the nation,” the NTF-WPS said.
“We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community,” it added.
Since the start of the Marcos administration last year, Rore missions became more regular—from once every two to three months, to every two to three weeks.
As Unaizah May 2 was being repaired due to the collision damage, the AFP deployed the ML Kalayaan, a fiberglass motor launch owned by the municipal government of Kalayaan in Palawan, which has jurisdiction over Ayungin and other features in the Kalayaan Island Group.
Ayungin, which is 185 kilometers from Palawan’s Rizal town, is within the country’s 370-km exclusive economic zone.
The shoal is more than 1,000 km from Hainan Island, the closest Chinese landmass, although Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea based on what it says are historical records. Those claims were challenged by the Philippines and were invalidated by the arbitral tribunal in 2016.
The supply boats were escorted by three PCG multirole response vessels: the 97-meter BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702); and BRP Cabra (MMRV-4409) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), both 44 m.
Timor-Leste has expressed support for the Philippines’ adherence to the rule of law under the Unclos as Beijing continued to show growing aggression in the South China Sea.
The expression of support came as President Marcos met with Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta in Malacañang on Friday morning as the Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea were reported.
“It is with gratitude that we also have received the expressions of support from the President for the Philippines in terms of the rules—our adherence to a rules-based international law, to Unclos,” Mr. Marcos said in a joint press statement with Ramos-Horta.
“The many suggestions and mechanisms that he brought to light … can be of use to the Philippines when it comes to the challenges that we are presently facing in the issues that are regarding the South China Sea or as we refer to it, the West Philippine Sea,” Mr. Marcos added, without elaborating.