South China Sea: US blasts 'aggressive’ China over Philippines ship collision

Hong Kong

The United States on Monday condemned China over its confrontation with the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, the latest in an increasingly fraught series of conflicts that have raised the possibility of a global conflict in the key waterway.

A Chinese ship and a Philippine supply vessel collided near the second Thomas Shoal in the contested Spratly Islands, with both countries blaming each other for the incident, according to reports.

China claims „indisputable sovereignty” over most of its islands and sandbars throughout the South China Sea, including many features hundreds of miles from mainland China. Several governments, including Manila, have competing claims.

In a post on X, Washington’s ambassador to Manila, Marieke Carlson, told the U.S. Condemned China’s „aggressive, dangerous maneuvers,” which „caused physical injury” and „damaged Philippine vessels.”

Neither the Philippines nor China reported injuries or damage from the clash, which comes weeks after Philippine President Ferdinand „Bangbang” Marcos Jr. warned The death of a Filipino citizen at the hands of another country in the South China Sea would be „very close” to an act of war.

Marcos has sought closer ties with the United States, which has reiterated Washington’s „ironclad commitment” to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines, which allows both sides to defend each other if attacked by a third party.

Monday’s incident is the latest in a series of clashes between Manila and Beijing that have raised concerns among Western observers about the possibility of developing into an international incident if world power China decides to act more forcefully against the Philippines.

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US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said „The United States stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns China’s aggressive and reckless actions” on Monday.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed the conflict with Philippine Undersecretary of State Maria Teresa Lazaro on Monday.

„China has blocked the Philippines from exercising lawful maritime activity in the South China Sea, interfering with the Philippines’ freedom of navigation,” Campbell said.

The latest incident marks the first run-in between the two countries since China’s new law took effect Saturday empowering its coast guard to seize foreign ships and detain crews suspected of trespassing without trial for up to 60 days.

The Chinese Coast Guard on Monday said the Philippine supply vessel „disregarded China’s repeated warnings” and „deliberately and dangerously” approached a Chinese vessel in an „unprofessional manner” in the collision.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the Philippines was „solely responsible for this,” a charge dismissed as „deceptive and misleading” by the Philippine military.

Instead, Philippine officials accused the Chinese vessels of „dangerous maneuvers” that included „ramming and towing” Philippine vessels.

A Report In X, Philippine Army spokesperson Colonel Franzel Margaret Padilla said, „The main issue is the illegal presence and activities of Chinese vessels within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, which violates our sovereignty and sovereign rights.”

Adrian Portugal/Reuters

A Philippine Coast Guard vessel intercepts a Chinese Coast Guard vessel en route to a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 5, 2024.

'Dangerous and reckless behaviour’

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a major maritime dispute, concluding that China had no legal basis to claim historic rights to much of the South China Sea.

But Beijing ignored the ruling. Instead, it has increasingly pushed its territorial claims along the strategically important and resource-rich waterway. Over the past year, Chinese coast guard ships – reinforced by maritime militia boats – have been involved in several skirmishes that have damaged Philippine ships. Filipino sailors wounded by water cannon.

Known as Ayung’s Shoal in the Philippines and Renai Jiao in China, the second Thomas Shoal is a submerged teardrop-shaped reef located about 200 kilometers (125 mi) off the Philippine island of Palawan.

It is in the Spratly Islands, a largely uninhabited archipelago where oil and gas reserves have been discovered, and is claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

A Philippine ship was on Monday on a mission to deliver its soldiers stationed in the rusting US-built Philippine Navy landing ship PRP Sierra Madre, whose national flag was deliberately hoisted aboard in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ border. The second lays claim to Thomas Shoal.

Chinese Coast Guard spokesman Gan Yu on Monday accused the Philippines of „illegally” providing supplies to the stranded warship.

In a statement, Khan said the Chinese coast guard had taken measures against the Philippine vessel, including „cautions and interceptions, boarding checks and forced evacuation”, adding that the Chinese side handled the incident in a „fair, legal and professional” manner.

„We warn the Philippines once again: Any form of violation and provocation is futile. The Chinese Coast Guard is fully alert and ready to resolutely defend national territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Khan said.

While his team has been quick to release reports and footage, distancing itself from past conflicts with China, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Dariela had no comment on the conflict to CNN.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines also declined to provide details of the latest run-in.

Instead, Philippine officials issued wide-ranging statements condemning China’s actions.

„China’s dangerous and reckless behavior in the West Philippine Sea (by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.) Their behavior contradicts their good faith and honorable statements,” Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. said.

“We will do our best to fulfill the mandate we pledged to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty and sovereign rights. It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the real obstacle to peace and stability in the South China Sea.

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