Blame game ensues as Philippines and China collide in disputed waters

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File photo.

10th December 2023 – (Manila) A collision occurred on Sunday between a Philippine boat and a Chinese Coast Guard ship near a highly disputed reef, further exacerbating tensions between the two countries in the contested South China Sea. The incident took place during a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, an area of contention between Manila and Beijing.

This clash comes just a day after the Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard of obstructing three government boats delivering provisions to Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal, located off the main island of Luzon, by using water cannons. Recent months have witnessed escalating tensions between Manila and Beijing, with multiple incidents involving Philippine and Chinese vessels, including two previous collisions.

China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea has been met with international opposition, as an international tribunal ruling declared their claims to have no legal basis. Despite this, China continues to assert its dominance by deploying boats to patrol the busy waterway and constructing militarised artificial islands to reinforce its territorial claims.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, a Chinese coast guard ship rammed into a Philippine boat carrying provisions during the resupply mission on Sunday. Jay Tarriela, the coast guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, reported on social media platform X that a Chinese ship also used water cannons against three Philippine vessels, resulting in serious engine damage to one of the boats.

In response, the China Coast Guard accused the Philippine boat of deliberately colliding with their vessel after disregarding multiple stern warnings. They claimed that the Philippine boat changed direction suddenly and collided with their Coast Guard Vessel 21556, which was on a routine law enforcement route, causing a scrape.

Earlier on, a civilian convoy consisting of 100 Filipino fishermen embarked on a journey that would pass Second Thomas Shoal as part of a mission to deliver Christmas supplies and provisions to a remote outpost. Second Thomas Shoal is located approximately 200km from the western Philippine island of Palawan and over 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island. A small number of Filipino troops are stationed on the crumbling BRP Sierra Madre, which the Philippine Navy deliberately grounded on the reef in 1999 to impede China’s advancement in the region. These troops rely on resupply missions for their survival.

It remains uncertain whether the supply boats were able to successfully deliver their cargo on Sunday. The Philippines and China have a long history of maritime incidents in the contested South China Sea, a crucial waterway for trillions of dollars’ worth of trade annually. As China becomes more assertive in asserting its claims over the waters, tensions between Manila and Beijing have escalated, with the Philippines issuing strongly-worded statements accompanied by videos and photos of the incidents.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, who assumed power in June 2022 and immediately sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington, recently warned that the situation in the South China Sea has become increasingly dire. The ongoing clashes highlight the complex and volatile nature of the territorial disputes in the region.