China and Philippines face off over South China Sea collision

In the latest incident in the waters disputed by China and the Philippines, two vessels collided.

An aerial view shows the BRP Sierra Madre on the contested Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, in the South China Sea, March 9, 2023 [Reuters]

China and the Philippines have sought to blame one another after their boats collided in the disputed South China Sea.

The China Coast Guard (CCG) said in a statement on Monday that a Philippine supply ship was to blame for a slight collision with a Chinese vessel. The Philippines quickly rejected that account, as tension flared in the latest incident between the two countries in the South China Sea.

The Chinese statement claimed that a Philippine supply ship ignored repeated “solemn warnings,” and instead proceeded to “dangerously and unprofessionally” approach the Chinese coast guard vessel leading to the collision.

It did not say whether anyone was injured or how badly the unnamed vessels were damaged.

Beijing accused the Philippine ship of “illegally breaking into the sea near Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands”, which is the Chinese name for Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands. The Philippines calls the submerged reef Ayungin Shoal. It deliberately grounded the Sierra Madre, a Philippine Navy transport ship, there in 1999 and a contingent of marines live on board.

“The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law,” Beijing added without elaborating.

Xerxes Trinidad, chief of the Philippine armed forces’ public affairs office, told reporters that the claims by the CCG were “deceptive and misleading” and that the military would not discuss operational details of resupply missions.

“The continued aggressive actions of the CCG are escalating tensions in the region.”

The military official added that the presence and activities of Chinese vessels in the area of Second Thomas Shoal, which falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), was illegal.

Beijing continues to claim almost the entirety of the South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line, despite a 2016 international tribunal ruling that it was without merit. As well as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.

China and the Philippines have for months traded accusations over dangerous manoeuvres and collisions in the area of the shoal, which lies about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan island.

Beijing also issued new rules which went into effect on Saturday, enforcing a 2021 law that China says allows its coastguard to use lethal force against foreign ships in waters that it claims.

The coastguard can also detain foreigners who are suspected of trespassing for up to 60 days without trial.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies