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Beijing, Manila spar over ship collisions in South China Sea

October 22, 2023

Manila accused the Chinese coast guard of acting in a "provocative, irresponsible, and illegal" manner after Chinese and Philippine vessels collided in two separate incidents in the South China Sea.

A still from aerial footage showing a Chinese coast guard ship sailing close to a Philippine resupply vessel
The Philippine military released images from a video showing the incident involving the Philippine resupply shipImage: Armed Forces of the Philippines/AP/picture alliance

China and the Philippines traded accusations on Sunday after two ship collisions in the South China Sea.

A Chinese coast guard ship collided with a transport vessel that had been contracted by the Philippine military to send food and other supplies to troops stationed on Second Thomas Shoal, which Beijing also claims as part of its territorial waters.

Shortly afterwards, a Chinese maritime militia vessel also collided with a Philippine coast guard ship.

What Manila and Beijing said

A Philippine government task force blamed China's coast guard for "the provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action" that it said "imperiled the safety of the crew."

It said the Chinese vessels showed "utter blatant disregard" for the UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry gave a different version of events, claiming that the first "slight collision" happened after the Philippine resupply boat ignored "multiple warnings and deliberately passed through law enforcement in an unprofessional and dangerous manner."

A still of a Chinese coast guard ship that is very close to the rear of a Philippine resupply vessel
The Philippine army released footage of the Chinese coast guard ship colliding the supply boatImage: Armed Forces of the Philippines/AP/picture alliance

Beijing blamed the second collision on a Philippine reversing into the Chinese vessel in a "premeditated manner."

China's coast guard claimed that the Philippine vessels "trespassed" into what it said were Chinese waters which "seriously violates the international rules on avoiding collisions at sea."

A first for Manila

The Philippines and China have increasingly been engaged in maritime confrontations in South China Sea, which is also disputed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia.

However, the incidents on Sunday were the first time Philippine officials reported their country's official vessels being hit by Chinese ships.

Second Thomas Shoal is located in the Spratly Islands some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan. In 1999, the Philippine navy deliberately ran a World War II-era transport ship into the shoal in order to use it as a military outpost.

The United States, a longtime ally of the Philippines, was quick to condemn the actions the Chinese ships.

US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson condemned China's "latest disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission" that put "the lives of Filipino service members at risk".

zc/dj (AP, Reuters, AFP)