China blames the Philippines for a ship collision in the South China Sea

China has become increasingly assertive in asserting its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. (File photo)

A Chinese ship and a Philippine supply ship collided Monday near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, China’s coast guard said, in the latest flare-up of escalating territorial disputes that have sparked alarm.

The Coast Guard said a Philippine supply ship entered waters near the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands that is part of territory claimed by several countries. The Philippine military called the Chinese coast guard report “deceptive and misleading.”

China’s coast guard said in a statement on social media platform WeChat that the Philippine supply ship “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings… and dangerously approached a Chinese ship in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision.” “The Philippines is fully responsible for this,” it added.

In Manila, the Philippine military said it “would not discuss operational details regarding the legal humanitarian rotation and supply mission in Ayungin Shoal, which is well within our exclusive economic zone.”

It used the Philippine name for the shoal, where Philippine Navy personnel have transported food, medicine and other supplies to a long-grounded warship that has served as Manila’s territorial outpost.

“We will not deem worthy of the Chinese Coast Guard’s deceptive and misleading claims,” military spokesman Colonel Xerxes Trinidad said. “The main issue remains the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which infringe on our sovereignty and sovereign rights.” “The CCG’s continued aggressive actions are escalating tensions in the region,” Trinidad said.

The Philippines says the shoal, which is less than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the coast, falls within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone and often cites a 2016 international arbitration ruling that upheld China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea debunked on historical grounds.

Several incidents have occurred in recent months near the shoal, where the Philippines has an outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, which has been covered in rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains a is a military ship that is actively in use, meaning that an attack on it could lead to an attack on the ship. considered an act of war by the Philippines.

China has become increasingly assertive in asserting its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, leading to an increasing number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

A new Chinese law that came into effect on Saturday authorizes the coast guard to seize foreign ships “illegally entering China’s territorial waters” and detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire on foreign ships if necessary.

At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters – the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan – have said they would not recognize the law.

The territorial disputes have strained relations and fueled fears that the conflict could draw China and the United States, the Philippines’ longtime ally, into a military confrontation. Washington makes no territorial claims over the busy sea lane, a key global trade route, but has warned it is obliged to defend the Philippines if Philippine troops, ships and aircraft come under armed attack in the South China Sea.

In addition to China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-simmering territorial disputes, which are considered a flashpoint in Asia and a delicate fault line in the long-standing US-China rivalry in the region.

Indonesia has also had to deal with Chinese coast guard and fishing fleets in the past in the gas-rich waters off the Natuna Islands on the edge of the South China Sea, where it blew up Chinese fishing boats it had taken into custody. The navy also fired warning shots at Chinese ships that strayed into what Jakarta considers its exclusive economic zone.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

First print: June 17, 2024 | 2:11 PM IST