SOUTH CHINA SEA, Sept 9 (Reuters) – The Philippines has completed a supply mission to troops stationed in a rusted World War II war, but not without the usual cat-and-mouse chase with Chinese ships in the South China Sea.
On Friday aboard one of the Philippine Coast Guard vessels, the Second Thomas Shoal, Reuters saw how Chinese Coast Guard and naval gunboats tried to chase the Philippine team and prevent them from reaching their destination.
China says the ships entered its territorial waters without permission.
During the mission, two Chinese ships intercepted two Philippine Coast Guard ships. In another case, a Philippine ship was surrounded by a Chinese coast guard ship and three naval vessels.
A Chinese ship was seen dangerously close to a Philippine ship aboard Reuters, while several Chinese military vessels tried to block its path.
„We are always facing dangerous maneuvers, shadowing activities, intercepted not only by China Coast Guard vessels but also by Chinese militia vessels,” Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Emmanuel Tangate told reporters after the mission.
„The delivery of supplies to PRP Sierra Madre is imperative to support our soldiers stationed there.”
The Philippines deliberately grounded the warship in 1999 as part of its sovereign claim to the shoal, which lies within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
China’s coast guard said on Friday that two Philippine supply boats and two coast guard vessels entered the waters off the shoal without permission from the Chinese government.
China says the Philippines is supplying construction materials to strengthen the rusting warship, violating China’s sovereignty. The Philippines says it is carrying water and food to its troops.
A US Navy aircraft was also spotted overhead during Friday’s flight.
In a radio message sent to its Chinese counterpart, the Philippine Coast Guard warned that China’s actions could affect relations between the two countries.
It said the measures were „illegal, aggressive and destabilizing”.
This is the second successfully completed resupply mission since August 5, when China’s coast guard used water cannons to intercept Philippine vessels.
In 2016, the Philippines won an international arbitration award against China, with the tribunal invalidating Beijing’s sovereign claims over large swaths of the South China Sea. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have various claims to certain areas.
Reporting by Jay Erino, Writing by Neil Jerome Morales, Editing by Clelia Osiel
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