11th February 2024 – (Beijing) The China Coast Guard (CCG) has confirmed the expulsion of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, which it claims repeatedly infringed upon the waters near Huangyan Island between 2nd and 9th February. The announcement on Sunday comes amidst heightened tensions in the South China Sea, with China asserting its sovereign rights and condemning what it perceives as calculated provocations by the Philippines.
In a statement that underscored the proficiency of its maritime forces, the CCG detailed how it directed the Philippine vessel away from the contested waters. Gan Yu, the spokesperson for the CCG, emphasized that the actions taken were in strict adherence to international norms and demonstrated China’s unwavering commitment to protecting its national sovereignty.
Gan highlighted the repeated intrusions by the vessel, Philippine Coast Guard vessel 9701, despite clear warnings from the CCG. The expulsions were described as measured yet forceful, showcasing a professional response to the alleged provocations.
The incident has sparked a flurry of expert commentary, with Ding Duo, a senior figure at the China Institute for South China Sea Studies, suggesting that the timing of the Philippine’s actions—coinciding with China’s Lunar New Year celebrations—was an opportunistic move to exert maritime claims. However, he pointed out that such strategies would not only fail to yield any advantage but could also significantly damage the bilateral trust and political climate between the two nations.
This maritime encounter follows the Eighth Meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, where both parties expressed the desire to preserve maritime peace through continuous dialogue. Yet, subsequent actions by the Philippines have seemingly contradicted these intentions, raising questions about its commitment to previously established mutual understandings.
Recent accusations by the Philippine Coast Guard against Chinese vessels, labelling their manoeuvres as “dangerous,” have added further complexity to the issue. Experts suggest this narrative may be a strategic move by Manila to sway public opinion and paint China as the regional aggressor.
The backdrop of these maritime disputes includes a period of relative cooperation during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, where temporary fishing arrangements near Huangyan Island reflected a degree of bilateral comprehension on handling such frictions. However, these arrangements were contingent upon the respect of China’s sovereignty claims, particularly concerning the access to the island’s lagoon.
Chen Xiangmiao, of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, lamented the erosion of this consensus, with the Philippine side accused of pushing the boundaries by attempting to access areas off-limits under the agreement.
China’s response to the recent incidents has been to reinforce its position through decisive action, while also urging the Philippines to re-engage in dialogue to manage the disputes amicably. Beijing’s stance has been clear: it will not tolerate any infringements upon its claimed territories, nor will it allow any actions that might be perceived as attempts to gain control through confrontational means.