Chinese Coast Guard Accused of Obstructing Philippine Aid Mission near Scarborough Shoal

Sun Dec 10 2023
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MANILA: The longstanding maritime tensions between the Philippines and China have reignited, with the Philippines accusing the Chinese Coast Guard of obstructing a humanitarian aid mission near the contested Scarborough Shoal. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea issued a statement vehemently condemning what it termed as “illegal and aggressive actions” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia. The incident unfolded as three government vessels were delivering essential supplies, including fuel and food, to Filipino fishermen in the region.

The Scarborough Shoal has been a focal point of territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing since 2012 when China seized control of the area following a tense standoff. Despite international norms under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which grants countries jurisdiction over natural resources within approximately 200 nautical miles of their shores, China has consistently maintained expansive claims in the South China Sea.

In response to the recent incident, Chinese state television defended the actions of the coast guard, asserting that they utilized “control measures in accordance with the law” against Philippine vessels that had supposedly “intruded” into the waters around the shoal. This latest confrontation drew swift condemnation from the international community, with US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson expressing concern over China’s “aggressive, illegal actions” against Philippine vessels.

Japan’s envoy, Kazuhiko Koshikawa, also voiced serious concern about the “dangerous actions” by the Chinese coast guard. Videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard documented the use of water cannons by China Coast Guard ships against Philippine vessels, resulting in significant damage to communication and navigation equipment on one boat. The forceful water blasts also caused severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to Filipino crew members.

The Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea accused the Chinese coast guard of deploying inflatable speed boats to drive away fishermen, preventing the distribution of humanitarian support. Aerial surveillance revealed the reinstallation of a floating barrier across the entrance to the shoal, guarded by Chinese boats. This move came after a similar barrier was cut by Philippine coast guard personnel in September, leading to heightened tensions between the two nations.

Despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that rejected China’s claims over the South China Sea and deemed its construction of artificial islands illegal, Beijing has consistently ignored the judgment. The Scarborough Shoal dispute underscores the broader challenge of managing maritime disputes in the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also assert territorial claims. The recent incident near Scarborough Shoal raises concerns about the potential escalation of tensions and the need for diplomatic efforts to find lasting solutions to the complex maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

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