At least four Chinese coast guard ships shadowed a Philippine ship on more than 40 occasions as they attempted to block it from patrolling near the Scarborough Shoal last week, the Philippine coast guard (PCG) said.
The PCG said it deployed the BRP Teresa Magbanua for a nine-day maritime patrol around the Scarborough Shoal on Feb. 1 to assist and distribute food to 100 Filipino fishermen operating in the area.
The Chinese ships engaged in “dangerous and blocking maneuvers” and crossed the bow of the PCG vessel twice during the closest encounter. The coast guard said it also spotted four Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels.
“Nevertheless, the PCG vessel professionally engaged both the CCG and CMM vessels through radio, reiterating the clear and principled position of the Philippines in accordance with international law,” the PCG stated.
Collin Koh, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, refuted the CCP’s claims, saying that the Chinese coast guard ships’ actions violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Scarborough Shoal, an atoll in the South China Sea, is part of the Spratly Islands and about 560 miles from China’s Hainan Island and 150 miles from the Philippines. Under UNCLOS, countries have jurisdiction over natural resources within 200 nautical miles (230 miles) of their coasts.
Scarborough Shoal is strategically located along crucial international waterways. Both the Philippines and China assert sovereignty over the shoal. Manila refers to it as “Bajo de Masinloc,” while Beijing calls it “Huangyan Island.”
‘World War’ Could Erupt Over South China SeaJose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, warned that conflict between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea could ignite at any time. In an interview on Dec. 7, he told Nikkei Asia that the South China Sea “is the flashpoint, not Taiwan.”
“If anything happens in our area, it’s like the beginning of another war, world war,” Mr. Romualdez told the news outlet.
To avoid an escalation of the conflict over the disputed waters, Mr. Romualdez said Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tried to discuss the issue with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November 2023.
However, the CCP leader “wasn’t in the mood” and seemed “very evasive” and “noncommittal,” saying that he would leave it to defense and diplomatic officials to discuss the issue, the diplomat said.
The South China Sea is a vital maritime trade route worth more than $3 trillion annually, claimed in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and others.
An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the legal action taken by the Philippines in 2016. The ruling didn’t see China’s communist regime change its behavior, with Chinese vessels repeatedly intruding into the Philippines’ maritime zones.