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China, Philippines naval ships collide in South China Sea as Beijing begins to enforce new law to act against foreign vessels

China claims most of the South China Sea (SCS), which is hotly disputed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan

PTI Beijing/Manila Published 17.06.24, 06:09 PM
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The China-Philippines confrontation to assert their claims in the disputed South China Sea took a violent turn on Monday as their naval ships collided in the first such incident after Beijing issued new rules to act against foreign vessels and detain foreigners “suspected of violating” regulations in the Chinese waters.

China claims most of the South China Sea (SCS), which is hotly disputed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.


A Philippines ship and a Chinese vessel collided after the former “illegally entered” the waters near the Second Thomas Shoal and “dangerously approached” the Chinese ship, China Coast Guard (CCG) said.

The navies and the coast guards of the two countries were having face-offs in the last few months as the Philippines made a strong bid to assert its claims over the Second Thomas Shoal in the SCS claimed by China.

China alleges that the Philippines deliberately ran a naval ship aground in 1999 at the Second Thomas Shoal, which it calls Renai Jiao, and converted the damaged ship into a permanent installation manned by naval personnel.

According to the CCG, the Chinese vessel collided with the Philippines ship on Monday morning in a bid to prevent it from delivering construction materials.

The CCG statement said its vessel has taken regulatory measures to respond to an illegal intrusion by a Philippine vessel into waters near Ren'ai Jiao on Monday morning.

A Philippine supply vessel, in disregard of repeated stern warnings from the Chinese side, deliberately and dangerously approached Chinese vessels navigating normally in adjacent waters of Ren'ai Jiao, it said.

This violated the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea. The act led to a slight collision, for which the responsibility lies entirely with the Philippine side, the statement added.

However, the statement did not mention any damage or injuries on either side.

Also, the Chinese Navy has for the first time deployed an amphibious assault ship in Nansha Islands (or Spratly Islands) in the SCS, a move experts said on Sunday is a preparation for any emergency response amid repeated provocations by the Philippines, the state-run Global Times reported.

China's Type 075 landing helicopter dock, an amphibious assault ship, was spotted near Zhubi Jiao (or Zhubi Reef) on Friday, marking its first deployment to the Nansha Qundao in the South China Sea, the report said.

Defending the CCG’s action, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said: “China Coast Guard only took necessary control measures against the Philippine vessels in accordance with the law, and the on-site operation was conducted in a professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful manner.” He said a Philippine supply and replenishment ship and two speedboats had attempted to deliver materials, including construction supplies, to troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines, backed by the US, is trying to assert its claims over the South China Sea based on a 2016 ruling by a tribunal of the UN Convention of Law of Seas (UNCLOS) endorsing its rights.

China had boycotted the tribunal and rejected its findings.

This is the first collision of ships after Beijing promulgated a new law on Saturday, authorising its coast guard to seize foreign ships that illegally enter China's territorial waters and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days.

The law empowers China's coast guard to fire upon foreign ships if necessary.

At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters -- the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan -- have said they would not recognise the law, according to a report by AP news agency.

China’s new law says its Coast Guard will from Saturday be able to detain foreigners “suspected of violating management of border entry and exit”.

A detention period of up to 60 days is allowed for “complicated cases”, and “if the nationality and identity (of detainees) is unclear, the period of detention for examination will be counted from the day their identity is determined”, the rules say.

Media reports from Manila quoted the Armed Forces of the Philippines saying China’s claims were “deceptive and misleading”.

"The main issue remains to be the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which infringes on our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” it said.

The armed forces said it would not comment on the operational details of the legal humanitarian rotation and resupply mission.

The CCG in the past has been accused of ramming Philippine supply vessels and using water cannons against them, sometimes damaging the ship and injuring people on board.

The Philippines, strongly backed by the US, has stepped up efforts to assert its claims in SCS, much to the chagrin of Beijing.

Tensions have also been brewing at Sabina Shoal, known as Escoda Shoal in the Philippines, around 139 km (75 nautical miles) west of Palawan, the westernmost island province of the Philippines, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

The recently concluded G7 Summit in Italy criticised China saying that the “dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia” in the SCS and the “increasing use of dangerous manoeuvres and water cannons” against Philippines vessels.

Last week, the Philippines submitted a claim to a United Nations body for an extended continental shelf off the coast of western Palawan province in the SCS. This action challenges China’s sweeping territorial claims in the region, according to the Post report.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal state can secure exclusive rights to exploit resources in its continental shelf, which can extend up to 350 nautical miles, including the right to authorise and regulate drilling activities.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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