China, Philippines escalate rhetoric in South China Sea collision row

Beijing and Manila officials talk of ‘intentional’ and deliberately ‘provocative’ manoeuvres in collision incidents.

Chinese coast guard ship blocks a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship
Chinese coastguard ship blocks a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship as it neared the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea [File: Ted Aljibe/AFP]

The Philippines has accused Chinese coastguard vessels of “intentionally” colliding with its vessels on a resupply mission in a disputed part of the South China Sea, saying Beijing is “obfuscating the truth”.

On its part, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Monday, warning Manila to refrain from using “slanderous” and “provocative” declarations over the two maritime collision incidents involving Chinese and Philippine vessels over the weekend.

The incidents took place on Sunday near Second Thomas Shoal, which lies within Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as the Philippines tried to resupply sailors on the Sierra Madre, a ship it grounded there in 1999.

Both sides claim sovereignty over these parts of the South China Sea and the two countries frequently engage in maritime incidents involving coastguard, military and supply vessels.

The Chinese vessels “harassed and intentionally hit” the Philippine vessels which were “conducting legitimate rotation and resupply operations within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines”, Philippine Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told reporters on Monday.

It was “a serious and egregious violation of international law”, he said.

Although no personnel were harmed in the incident, Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson at the Philippine National Security Council, said Manila was “concerned by the escalation and provocations by Chinese vessels, who have no business being in the West Philippine Sea”.

Chinese officials contended that its coastguard took “lawful” actions against “trespassing” in Chinese territorial waters, and transporting “illegal construction materials”.

China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Monday warning Manila to stop “provocations” and take Chinese concerns seriously.

“Stop dangerous maneuvers, stop creating more tensions in the region, stop groundlessly attacking and slandering China, and to tow away the illegally ‘grounded’ warship as soon as possible,” deputy chief of mission Zhou Zhiyong said in an embassy statement.

Meanwhile, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza said at a joint news conference that “all incidents like this will bolster the case that it’s not the Philippines that’s the aggressor, but the other party, which is China”.

Commodore Jay Tarriela of the Philippine coastguard described the incident where about five Chinese coastguard ships, eight accompanying vessels and two navy ships formed a blockade on Sunday to prevent two Philippine coastguard ships and two boats from delivering supplies to Philippine forces stationed on the shoal.

Beijing has further taken exception with US statements backing Manila against China’s “coastguard and maritime militia’s dangerous and unlawful actions”.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the US “disregarded the facts” in its statement of support.

A US State Department statement on Sunday accused China of using “provocative” manoeuvres “to enforce its expansive and unlawful maritime claims, reflecting disregard for other states lawfully operating in the region”.

Beijing has continued to expand and develop its interests in the disputed waters despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling, building artificial islands and military installations as well as deploying its fishing fleet, maritime militia and coastguard to defend its claim.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies