Philippine General Accuses China of Piracy in South China Sea Conflict

This photo taken on Feb. 15, 2024 shows an aerial view of a Chinese coast guard ship and Chinese coast guard personnel on a rubber boat over Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
STA ROSA CLOCK / AFP

  • A Philippine general called in China’s coast guard after a violent confrontation.
  • China’s coast guard disrupts Philippine resupply mission at Thomas Shoal for second time
  • Experts say it’s not theft, but an increase in complexity.

The chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines accused China of behaving like pirates after China’s coast guard aggressively clashed with Philippine ships on a resupply mission using bladed weapons on Monday.

„Only pirates do this,” General Romeo Brawner Jr. said Social media post Regarding the recent activities of the Chinese Coast Guard. „Only pirates board, steal and destroy ships, equipment and belongings.”

Beijing has blamed the Philippines for the incident, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying on Thursday that the „Philippines side is calling white black and falsely blaming China”.

Footage of the encounter showed China’s coast guard surrounding Philippine ships in the South China Sea. Chinese ships were closed and tensions flared. The incident escalated amid months of conflict in the region.

Coast Guard members can be seen in the videos using blades and removing material from the Philippine vessel.

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The Filipino general added that the crew on board the ambushed ships were outnumbered and fought „barely” against the Chinese coast guard.

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While the behavior of the Chinese coast guard documented by the Philippines is aggressive, not piracy, an expert explained, it is still a serious problem.

The Chinese Coast Guard may have used piracy-like tactics, but it was not legally piracy. The incident was not in waters beyond a country’s jurisdiction, and was not for monetary gain, as Harrison Predat, deputy director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.

The Chinese coast guard „is trying to prevent the resupply of the Philippine PRP Sierra Madre, a ship that has been grounded since 1999 at the second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines maintains a naval garrison,” explained Predat.

He added that the Permanent Court of Arbitration declared in 2016 that the Second Thomas Shoal is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Therefore, the Philippines should approach the second Thomas, China’s signatory to the UN. Artificial structures can be constructed under the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This photo taken on February 15, 2024 shows an aerial view of Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
STA ROSA/AFP WATCH

Although the country is a signatory, „China rejects the 2016 ruling and is trying to enforce its control over maritime activities within its nine-dash line claim,” Predat said. The nine-dash line is a map representing China’s vast and disputed claims to the South China Sea.

This is not the first time China’s coast guard has acted aggressively towards the Philippines at sea, especially in parts of the hot Spratly Islands. In recent months, Chinese ships have fired water cannons at Philippine ships and rammed them. Equipment is damaged and workers are injured. But this week’s incident reached a new level.

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According to another account of the incident, Browner said the Chinese guards „took guns and other equipment and destroyed our equipment, including motors. They punctured our rigid-hulled inflatable boats.” One of the Filipino workers even lost his thumb in the incident.

„This latest incident is a significant escalation from recent tensions, which have previously involved water cannons targeting Philippine civilian boats — this time, an inflatable boat boarded and destroyed by Chinese crews,” Predat said. It raises the stakes.

The maritime expert noted that the attack would „trigger US obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty”. That could raise the risk of conflict between the U.S. and China, Breitt said. However, Manila did not plan Call the deal. This is a measure to prevent further escalation, but the Philippines is demanding that China return seized equipment and pay for damages.

In a post on X this week, US Ambassador to the Philippines Marieke Carlson said, „The United States condemns the aggressive, dangerous maneuvers of the PRC,” referring to China by its acronym, the People’s Republic of China.

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