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The Philippines issued a statement on Friday strongly condemning China after a Chinese coast guard ship came within 3 feet of colliding with a Philippine patrol ship in the South China Sea, amid territorial disputes in the Pacific.
“We condemn the behavior of the Chinese coast guard vessel. They have been violating international law, particularly the collision regulations,” Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said at a briefing Friday.
A collision was averted when one of the two Philippine coast guard vessels, the BRP Sindangan, rapidly reversed its engine to avoid slamming into the Chinese coast guard ship that crossed its bow at a distance of only a meter, Tarriela said.
The alarming incident took place near Second Thomas Shoal, which the Asian neighbors both claim and has been the scene of frequent confrontations and has intensified fears such territorial disputes could spark a larger crisis. A major clash in the disputed waters could potentially involve the United States, which has vowed to defend the Philippines, its treaty ally.
PHILIPPINE BOATS BREACH CHINESE COAST GUARD BLOCKADE NEAR DISPUTED SHOAL IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
A Chinese coast guard ship, left, with a Chinese militia vessel, right, blocks Philippine coast guard ship, BRP Sindangan as it tried to head towards Second Thomas Shoal at the disputed South China Sea during rotation and resupply mission on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Joeal Calupitan)
Tarriela said the near-collision was “the closest dangerous maneuver” by any Chinese coast guard ship against a Philippine patrol ship.
It was witnessed by several journalists, including from The Associated Press, who were invited by the Philippine coast guard to join the voyage as part of a strategy aimed at exposing Chinese aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
The Chinese coast guard said in a statement Wednesday night that the Philippine vessels entered the waters “without permission from the Chinese government” and that “China firmly opposes the Philippines illegally transporting building materials to the ‘grounded’ military boat.” It said it gave a stern warning to the Philippine vessels and monitored them throughout the process.
A Chinese coast guard ship, rear, blocks Philippine coast guard ship, BRP Sindangan as it tried to head towards Second Thomas Shoal at the disputed South China Sea during rotation and resupply mission on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Joeal Calupitan)
The incident came after one Philippine coast guard vessel was blocked and surrounded by Chinese coast guard and militia ships for about eight hours on Wednesday.
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Wednesday’s hostilities began at dawn when a Chinese coast guard ship closely tailed the Philippine vessels enroute to Second Thomas Shoal and later formed a blockade including militia ships and at least one navy warship.
Two smaller supply boats being escorted by the Philippine coast guard in the contested waters managed to breach the Chinese blockade and delivered food and other supplies to a Filipino marine outpost at the shoal.
A Chinese coast guard ship, second left, and three Chinese militia vessels block Philippine Coast Guard ship, BRP Sindangan as it tried to head towards Second Thomas Shoal at the disputed South China Sea during rotation and resupply mission on on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Joeal Calupitan)
A Chinese coast guard radio operator asserted repeatedly to the BRP Sindangan that “China has indisputable sovereignty” over Second Thomas Shoal and outlying waters. “To avoid miscalculations, leave and keep out,” the Chinese radio operator warned.
Filipino coast guard personnel responded by asserting Philippine rights to the area and said they would proceed with the delivery of the supplies.
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The flare-up was the latest in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. The conflict has involved China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, and has become a flashpoint in the U.S.-China regional rivalry.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.