China Intercepts US Ally’s Ships Near Disputed Waters

China Intercepts US Ally’s Ships Near Disputed Waters
China Intercepts US Ally’s Ships Near Disputed Waters

China’s Coast Guard intercepted and shadowed Philippine government vessels over the weekend in an effort to block them from operating within the U.S. ally’s internationally recognized maritime zone.

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The interaction culminated in an hours-long staredown just about 40 miles from a major Philippine island-much closer than has been typical for Chinese Coast Guard actions.

Tensions are running high between Manila and Beijing, which claims most of the South China Sea as its territory, including waters within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

Last month, Chinese Coast Guard ships aggressively honed in on two supply convoys en route to an outlying Philippine military outpost, each time damaging a supply boat with water cannons and injuring sailors onboard. Manila vowed unspecified countermeasures.

On Saturday, Philippine research vessel BRP Hydrographer Ventura and its Coast Guard escort BRP Gabriela Silang set off to conduct a hydrographic survey in waters north of contested Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing grounds 120 nautical miles (138 miles) west of the Philippines’ most populous island Luzon and 600 nautical miles from the closest Chinese shores.

Prior to the mission, a Philippines conservation agency had put out a notice announcing where it would take place and warning vessels to “take necessary precautionary measures at all times” when passing through the area.

Ship-tracking data published by Stanford University-affiliated research group SeaLight shows the ships were intercepted by a China Coast Guard ship (hull No. 5303) just 35 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon, home to the Philippines’ coastal capital Manila.

SeaLight director Ray Powell pointed out at 4:26 a.m. Philippine time that the vessels had “barely moved” for eight hours. “This really is unprecedented: they intercepted them just as they crossed that nine-dash line claim,” Powell told the Financial Times.

This dashed line was unilaterally imposed by China to delineate its claims, overlapping with those of the Philippines and several other neighbors. The demarcation was dismissed as invalid in 2016 by an international court.

By 9 a.m. on Sunday local time, the Philippine ships were underway again and sailing west as the Chinese Coast Guard continued to shadow them.

Newsweek reached out to the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources via written request for comment.

“Since yesterday and continuing until now, the China Coast Guard vessel 5303 has persistently engaged in provocative actions and illegal monitoring of our ongoing hydrographic survey,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela wrote in a statement on social media.

The spokesperson said China did not interfere with the study.

He said the ship’s actions are proof China is “unhesitant in deploying its vessels within [the Philippines’] exclusive economic zone to intimidate and impede [its] legitimate operations, specifically in the field of marine scientific research.”

The Philippine mission got underway amid what Powell called a “swarm” of at least 25 Chinese ships near Scarborough Shoal, which is known in the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc.

The “swarm” included both China Coast Guard and paramilitary maritime militia vessels in numbers four times that seen at the reef in February, local media cited the Philippine Coast Guard as saying.

China effectively seized control over Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in one-on-one talks. The two then joined Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a three-way summit, the first for their countries.

Biden reaffirmed to Marcos the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty extends to the whole Pacific, including the South China Sea.


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