Manila (Reuters) – The Philippines on Friday accused China’s coast guard of “dangerous manoeuvres” and “aggressive tactics” in the South China Sea, in another maritime confrontation between the two countries at a time of simmering geopolitical tension.
The incident occurred on Sunday during a Philippine coast guard patrol close to the Philippine-held Second Thomas Shoal, a flashpoint for previous altercations located 105 nautical miles (195 km) off its coast.
Two Chinese ships acted aggressively and posed a “significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew”, the coast guard said in a statement. One of the two Chinese vessels “carried out dangerous manoeuvres” about 150 feet (45.72 m) from a Philippine ship, it said.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Teresita Daza said China had interfered with a routine patrol and should “refrain from actions that may cause an untoward incident”.
The Second Thomas Shoal is home to a small military contingent aboard a rusty World War Two-era U.S. ship that was intentionally grounded in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ territorial claims. In February, the Philippines said a Chinese ship had directed a “military-grade laser” at one of its resupply vessels.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea with a “nine-dash line” on maps that stretches more than 1,500 km off its mainland and cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. An international arbitral ruling in 2016 dismissed that line as having no legal basis.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Friday said the Philippine vessels had intruded into Chinese waters and “made deliberate provocative moves”.
“We urge the Philippines to respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights,” Mao said, adding the Chinese vessels acted professionally and with restraint.
The incident took place the same weekend that Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang visited Manila, where he met President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Marcos will meet U.S. counterpart Joe Biden at the White House next week, which comes as the two countries rapidly increase defence engagements, including large-scale military exercises and a recent expansion of U.S. access to Philippine bases. China has objected to the bases agreement.
The Philippine coast guard said that during its April 18-24 patrol of disputed Spratly islands, and Philippine-held features, it spotted over 100 boats it believed were Chinese militia, as well as coast guard vessels and a Chinese navy corvette.