US-ally Philippines Reports Confrontation With Chinese Coast Guard

Chinese coast guard vessels have fired their water cannons against a routine Philippine patrol boat.

Chinese coast guard vessels have fired their water cannons against a routine Philippine patrol Monday morning, further ratcheting up tensions between Beijing and the U.S. defense treaty ally.

The incident was the latest in a string of increasingly tense standoffs between the two neighbors in the contested South China Sea. It also comes as thousands of U.S. military forces join their Philippine counterparts in the annual Balikatan military exercise, with an eye on China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

The Philippine Coast Guard said the its cutter BRP Bagacay and fisheries bureau ship the BRP Datu Bankaw, were on a mission to distribute fuel and food to fishermen near the traditional fishing ground Scarborough Shoal, known in the Philippines as Bajo De Masinloc, when the boats were targeted.

During their patrol, the government mission was intercepted by Chinese coast guard and paramilitary Maritime Militia ships, which proceeded to conduct “dangerous maneuvers and obstruction,” coast guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela wrote on X (formerly Twitter) Tuesday.

About 14 miles from the Shoal, a Chinese coast guard ship fired its water cannon at the fisheries vessel. Its coast guard escort subsequently came under fire from two different directions, sustaining damage to its canopy and railing, the spokesperson said.

He added that the China Coast Guard had put in place a 380-meter (1,050-foot) “floating barrier at the mouth of the Shoal to block access.

A minor collision also occurred. Footage captured by a TV5 reporter embedded on the Datu Bankaw shows the moment it slammed together with a China Coast Guard ship, as the water cannon fire continued.

According to Tarriela, the Philippine vessels “stood their ground and continued their maritime patrol.”

“The Chinese Coast Guard on Tuesday expelled a Philippine Coast Guard ship and an official vessel that intruded into the waters adjacent to Huangyan Dao in the South China Sea,” Chinese government mouthpiece the China Global Television Network said, using China’s term for Scarborough Shoal.

Manila began sending joint coast guard and fisheries bureau patrols earlier this year to support Philippine fishermen operating around Scarborough Shoal in response to repeated incidences of the Chinese coast guard ejected anglers from the area.

In the China Coast Guard’s statement, spokesperson Gan Yu on said the Philippine ships had “intruded” the waters around Scarborough Shoal despite multiple warnings.

He added that Beijing has “indisputable sovereignty” over the feature and adjacent waters and vowed the country would continue operating “in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with the law, and resolutely safeguard national territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

As of Tuesday night, the pair of Philippine government ships and their Chinese coast guard tail were lingering in waters about 43 miles east of the shoal, according to ship-tracking data shared with Newsweek by Ray Powell, director of the Stanford University-affiliated SeaLight initiative.

Based on past behavior from China’s maritime forces, Powell said there are likely more vessels in the area that have switched off their automatic identification systems to avoid detection.

“It’s not clear yet what the Philippines’ path forward is,” he said.

China claims sovereignty over upward of 90 percent of the busy South China Sea. Its claims include features like Scarborough Shoal that lie within the internationally exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, despite an international court’s 2016 decision dismissing these sweeping claims.

Scarborough Shoal sits about 140 miles west of the Philippines’ most populous island, Luzon, and nearly 700 miles from the nearest Chinese province of Hainan.

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