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South China Sea: Philippines accuses China of boarding boats

June 19, 2024

Beijing has defended the actions of the Chinese Coast Guard against Philippine navy boats in the latest confrontation in the South China Sea.

Members of the media take footage of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel blocking a Philippine Coast Guard vessel on its way to a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea
Chinese Coast Guard vessels routinely block Philippine ships from resupplying the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China SeaImage: Adrian Portugal/REUTERS

Chinese Coast Guard rammed and boarded Philippine naval boats and confiscated their weapons in the South China Sea, injuring a Filipino soldier, the Philippine military said on Wednesday.

"The Chinese Coast Guard personnel illegally embarked on our RHIBS (rigid-hulled inflatable boats)," Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres told reporters, adding that Chinese boarders had some guns.

The incident is the latest in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in recent months off the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, where a tiny Philippine garrison is stationed on an old warship BRP Sierra Madre that was deliberately beached.

What do we know about the incident?

The Philippine boats were on a resupply mission Monday when they were attacked by the Chinese Coast Guard.

Philippines military chief General Romeo Brawner said the seized weapons were meant for Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre warship on the shoal.

He claimed the Chinese boarders were armed with swords, spears and knives. "We fought back with our bare hands," Brawner said, noting that the Filipino sailors were "outnumbered" by the eight-boat Chinese coast guard contingent.

According to Torres, the Filipino sailors were under orders not to show their weapons in a confrontation, and one of them lost a thumb. The Chinese Coast Guard later "deliberately punctured" the Philippine boats, he said.

What was China's reaction?

Meanwhile, China defended what it called its "professional and restrained" actions against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.

"Law enforcement measures taken by the China Coast Guard at the site were professional and restrained," foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said, adding that "no direct measures were taken against personnel of the Philippines."

According to China's Coast Guard, Manila's ship had deliberately and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in an unprofessional manner, forcing it to take control measures, including "boarding inspections and forced evictions."

Where is the Second Thomas Shoal?

The Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan. It is more than 1,000 kilometers from China's nearest major landmass, Hainan Island.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims by several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

China uses coast guard and other vessels to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarized artificial islands. In recent months, it has stepped up actions against Philippine vessels in the area of Second Thomas Shoal.

China, Philippines row over claims in South China Sea

dh/rc (AFP, Reuters)