Inside the Philippines’ dangerous mission in the South China Sea

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By RockedBuzz 8 Min Read

FILE PHOTO: A Philippine supply boat is launched near a Chinese Coast Guard ship during a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed at a warship based in the South China Sea, October 4, 2023. (Reuters)

FILE PHOTO: A Philippine provide boat is launched close to a Chinese Coast Guard ship throughout a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed at a warship based mostly in the South China Sea, October 4, 2023. (Reuters)

As sailors tried to unload provisions from two small boats for troops on a ship grounded in the South China Sea, a US Navy plane flew overhead and three Philippine coast guard vessels had been taken in Japan watching.

They had been later monitored by a flotilla of Chinese coast guard ships and different vessels that spent the previous few hours making an attempt to dam the Philippine vessels from reaching their vacation spot, together with firing water cannon.

The scene was the end result of the newest mission to exchange the BRP Sierra Madre, a decaying World War II vessel that Manila intentionally ran aground on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 in response to China’s occupation of Mischief Reef 4 a yr earlier than that. This is the solely outpost of the Philippines in the shovel designed to determine its dominance in the wealthy fishing waters.

The profitable November 10 mission was an indication of the trilateral partnership between the Philippines, the US and Japan that’s difficult Beijing’s efforts to regulate the disputed space. As Washington renews its safety ensures to Manila, this distant reef has grow to be a serious flashpoint for US-China rivalry in the area, probably rivaling the long-term friction over Taiwan.

The Philippine convoy final week hosted reporters from native and worldwide media, together with Bloomberg News, as a part of Manila’s efforts to publicize China’s ways. The mission got here simply days earlier than US President Joe Biden and Chinese chief Xi Jinping had been scheduled to satisfy in San Francisco to fix ties. Earlier this month, the United States and China held their first talks targeted solely on maritime points since September 2019.

Over the years, Philippine officers have grow to be more and more involved about the degradation of the Sierra Madre. Rust and the parts left gaping holes in the hull and will render the vessel uninhabitable if not deserted. China has strongly opposed the Philippines’ efforts to restore the Sierra Madre and has repeatedly urged Manila to withdraw it.

“The decline is quicker than our provide,” Philippine Senior Undersecretary of Defense Ireneo Espino stated in September.

In the newest operation, the Philippines stated it detected a complete of 38 Chinese ships throughout the voyage, together with a fishing trawler and a hospital vessel. Manila had 5 — the three coast guard ships constructed by Japan and two provide boats constructed by the army.

The mission started at round 9 am on Thursday when two Philippine coast guard ships, with journalists on board, started taking the provide boats on the day journey to Second Thomas Shoal.

As one in all the coast guard vessels, the BRP Sindangan, moved nearer to the shovel, a Chinese coast guard speedboat sailed close by and abruptly minimize throughout its path. Moments later, the Sindán was intercepted by 4 Chinese vessels – a pair from the coast guard and two fishing trawlers.

“Even in the event that they triple the variety of Chinese vessels they’ll deploy, the Philippine coast guard won’t be deterred from doing the substitute operation,” coast guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela advised reporters on Saturday in Manila . “We are nonetheless going to do that dangerous mission regardless of our restricted variety of vessels.”

On a earlier replenishment mission on October 22, the Chinese and Philippine vessels collided on two separate events. The harm to the Philippine provide boat was so unhealthy {that a} substitute was used in Friday’s operation, the authorities stated.

This time, the Philippine coast guard added a bigger patrol vessel to the group, the Japanese-built BRP Melchora Aquino – named after a Filipino hero referred to as the mom of the Philippine revolution. As the Melchora Aquino sailed in the direction of Second Thomas Shoal, a coast guard ship from China despatched her an indignant message.

“You must stop your illegal operation immediately. If you continue to ignore our warning, we will take the necessary measures and you will take full responsibility for the resulting consequences.”

During the journey, the Sindans radioed the Chinese vessels: “This is the Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Sindangan conducting a routine maritime patrol inside the unique financial zone of the Philippines. We are continuing to our supposed route. Leave instantly. Stay away from our offspring.”

China, which has made sweeping territorial claims over the South China Sea, stated on Friday that the Philippines had “grossly violated China’s sovereignty” and that Manila’s actions to restore and strengthen the stranded ship violated worldwide regulation.

“China will proceed to take mandatory measures in accordance with the regulation to firmly shield our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and pursuits,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin advised a daily briefing.

The Philippines stated a Chinese coast guard vessel fired a water cannon at one in all its provide boats, prompting Manila’s embassy in Beijing to file a grievance with China’s international ministry on Friday.

Washington got here to Manila’s protection, saying it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines “in gentle of China’s repeated harassment in the South China Sea”. After final month’s collision, President Biden warned that an assault on a Philippine public vessel in the South China Sea would set off Washington’s protection commitments.

During a go to to Manila earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to work on trilateral cooperation with the US in the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ efforts to publicize China’s maritime incursions received help from different nations and did “some harm” to Beijing’s popularity, stated Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He stated China may deploy “much more coast guard ships and maritime militia vessels” to behave aggressively in opposition to the Philippines’ resupply efforts in the future.

“The scene is being set for a severe check of wills and an incident that may consequence in bodily harm and harm and presumably lack of life,” Thayer stated.

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