Two collisions between Chinese and Philippine ships raise tension in the South Sea | International

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A new incident between Beijing and Manila is heating up the always choppy waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines summoned the Chinese ambassador to the island country this Monday after two collisions occurred on Sunday between ships from both nations in disputed waters. The Philippines has condemned an action that it considers “dangerous, irresponsible and illegal” and that violates its “sovereignty.” China considers that it has responded in a “professional and restrained” manner to what it calls an “intrusion” and calls on Manila to “stop creating problems and provoking at sea.”

The blow has also been felt in Washington. The White House has criticized the “unsafe” maneuvers with which China wants to “assert its expansive and illegal maritime claims” and has recalled that the mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 with Manila “extends to armed attacks against the Armed Forces.” , public vessels and aircraft — including those of its Coast Guard — anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to a statement issued Sunday by the State Department.

This Monday, Beijing denounced the "sinister intentions" of the United States for supporting "the acts of rape and provocation in the Philippines," according to Mao Ning, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, in an appearance.

The double crash took place early Sunday morning on what the Philippines calls the Ayungin sandbar and China claims under the name Ren'ai Jiao. It is an atoll of the Spratley Islands, an archipelago dotted with small islands, shoals and reefs where Beijing's interests collide with those of other neighboring nations, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as the Philippines.

According to Manila's version, a Chinese coast guard ship carried out a "dangerous blocking maneuver" that caused it to collide with a replenishment ship contracted by the Philippine Armed Forces. Later, a Philippine coast guard ship “was hit by a Chinese maritime militia ship,” according to a statement from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. The Philippine vessels were on a “regular and routine rotation and replenishment” mission of the Sierra Madrean old Philippine warship stranded on the atoll since the 1990s, where Manila maintains a garrison.

“Ignoring warnings”

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Beijing, on the other hand, argues that the Philippine ships “disregarded warnings” and “dangerous collided with Chinese Coast Guard vessels” that were “carrying out order maintenance tasks at the site,” according to a statement issued on Sunday. by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The Asian giant also accuses the Philippines of “illegally” keeping the Sierra Madre in the zone. “This seriously violates China's territorial sovereignty,” added the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which has demanded its withdrawal.

The crash point is located about 105 nautical miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan, so Manila considers it part of its exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles). China claims sovereignty over 90% of the waters of this sea for “historical” reasons. However, a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague dealt a blow to Beijing in 2016 by unanimously denying the legal basis for its arguments. The People's Republic has always questioned the authority of the decision.

In addition to calling the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines for consultations, the president of this country, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., has ordered an investigation after summoning the national security and defense leadership this Monday “to examine the recent harassment of China to Philippine ships,” announced Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro. “The Philippine Government considers China's latest aggression as a flagrant violation of international law,” he said in an appearance. “China has no right or legal authority to carry out law enforcement operations in our territorial waters. “We are taking this incident seriously at the highest level.”

The South China Sea, through which nearly a third of global goods pass, is one of those planetary points of friction where the strength of the People's Republic - accompanied by the construction of artificial islands, military installations in disputed areas and of scuffles with local fishing vessels—has for years aroused the concern of its neighbors (Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, as well as the Philippines) and further tightened the rope with the United States.

Last month, sparks flew when Manila ordered the removal of a floating barrier placed by Beijing to stop the entry of Philippine fishing vessels into another disputed reef. Although the disputes over maritime and fishing rights between China and the Philippines go back a long way, they calmed down during the years of Rodrigo Duterte – closer to Beijing – at the head of the Philippine Executive. Since the arrival to power in 2022 of Marcos Jr., son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, the country has intensified its military relationship with the United States with an eye on China. Thus, while Manila regains its importance as a piece of Washington's puzzle for the Asia-Pacific region, this year, Chinese and Filipino fishing vessels have clashed at various points.

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