The Philippines accused China of conducting “the closest dangerous manoeuvre” against one of their patrol ship in the high sea off an area contended by both nations.
On Wednesday, a Chinese coastguard ship reportedly came within just four metres of a Filipino patrol ship in the South China Sea’s contested waters.
Another Philippine coastguard boat was blocked and surrounded by ships belonging to Beijing’s coastguard and militia.
Only the quick action undertaken by one of the Filipino vessels made it possible for it to avoid hitting the Chinese coastguard ship that crossed its bow at a distance of only a metre, the Philippines’ coastguard spokesman claimed.
A collision may have had long-lasting ramifications, as it could have seen the US intervening to protect the Philippines.
While Washington doesn’t lay claims on any of the territories or waters in the area, it carries out patrols in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait to control China’s aggressive moves, prevent an escalation of violence and protect the right of transit in the area, key for global trades.
The standoff lasted for about eight hours and took place near the Second Thomas Shoal, one of the areas in the South China Sea on which both China and the Philippines have laid claims.
Speaking about the incident, the Filipino coastguard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said: “We condemn the behaviour of the Chinese coastguard vessel.
“They have been violating international law, particularly the collision regulations.”
The altercation began at dawn, after the Chinese coastguard ship closely tailed the Philippine vessels going towards the Second Thomas Shoal.
After being caught in the blockade, the Filipino vessels were told by a Chinese radio operator China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the shoal and its outlying waters.
The Philippines’ BRP Sindangan patrol ship was also told to “avoid miscalculations, leave and keep out”.
The Filipino crew responded by laying their own country’s claims on the area and stating they would proceed with their mission – a delivery of supplies to a maritime outpost at the shoal.
This incident happened just weeks after the Filipino coastguard removed a floating barrier placed by China to prevent Manila’s boat from entering a lagoon in the Scarborough Shoal, another contended area.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the whole South China Sea area, despite it overlapping with the waters of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.