China Coast Guard accused of behaving ‘like pirates’ in South China Sea

Philippines says coastguard personnel armed with knives and spears boarded their ships in Second Thomas Shoal confrontation.

The Philippines has accused the China Coast Guard of acting “like pirates”, saying personnel armed with knives and spears boarded their resupply vessels at Second Thomas Shoal in the latest confrontation in the disputed South China Sea.

Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces General Romeo Brawner said the incident took place on June 17 as Filipino soldiers attempted to resupply sailors stationed on the Sierra Madre, which Manila grounded on the reef in 1999.

“The Chinese Coast Guard personnel had bladed weapons and our personnel fought with bare hands,” he wrote in a statement on Facebook on Wednesday. “We were outnumbered and their weapons were unexpected but our personnel fought with everything that they had.”

The Philippines said one of their sailors was badly injured, and the boats were damaged.

Brawner said the coastguard had acted like pirates.

“Only pirates do this,” he said. “Only pirates board, steal, and destroy ships, equipment, and belongings.”

The situation at Second Thomas Shoal, which lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ)  about 195km (121 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, has become increasingly fraught in recent months with China attempting to disrupt the Philippines’ regular missions to the Sierra Madre.

Beijing denied its personnel acted inappropriately.

“The law enforcement action taken by China Coast Guard on the scene was professional and restrained,” Spokesman Lin Jian said at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ regular news conference on Wednesday, saying they were trying to stop a resupply mission that was “illegal”.

Lin accused the Philippines of sending construction material and “even weapons and ammunition” to the rusting ship.

“China urges the Philippines to stop its infringement and provocation at once,” Lin said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line and has continued to build artificial islands and military outposts on outcrops and reefs despite an international tribunal ruling its claim to have “no legal basis” in 2016.

Beijing has backed up its claims with ships from its coastguard, maritime militia and fishing fleets, and on Saturday, it began enforcing a 2021 law that China says allows its coastguard to use lethal force against foreign ships in waters that it claims, and to detain alleged foreign “trespassers” without trial.

The Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, on Wednesday published photos that it said showed the China Coast Guard’s “interception, boarding, inspection and expelling of Philippine vessels” at Second Thomas Shoal in a manoeuvre that appeared to involve four boats.

One picture, taken from the air, showed three Chinese vessels – two of them black-hulled inflatables – chasing down a Philippine boat, which appeared to be sandwiched between a coastguard ship and one of the inflatables.

Philippine military chief General Romeo Brawner pins a medal on sailor who was taken to hospital after a confrontation with the Chinese Coast Guard. The sailor is lying on a hospital bed in a sky blue hospital pyjamas. His right hand and wrist is bandaged.
Military chief General Romeo Brawner pins a medal on a sailor who was taken to hospital after the confrontation at Second Thomas Shoal [Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP Photo]

The Philippines military, meanwhile, shared its own video of the incident. It appeared to show two Chinese vessels approaching a smaller Philippine ship from either side. A third Chinese boat was visible close behind with Chinese coastguard personnel in orange life jackets then boarding the encircled vessel. One appeared to be carrying an axe.

The Philippines’ Foreign Ministry condemned China’s “illegal and aggressive” behaviour in the latest incident, noting in a statement efforts were being made “to rebuild a conducive environment for dialogue and consultation with China on the South China Sea”.

It said no progress would be made if “China’s words do not match their actions on the waters” and urged Beijing to “act sincerely and responsibly”.

The ministry urged China to respect international law and the 2016 ruling, in particular, which Manila filed after Beijing seized Scarborough Shoal following a months-long standoff.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), each country has an EEZ extending 200 nautical miles (around 370km) from their coast over which it has sovereign rights.

Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea.

Source: Al Jazeera