The Philippines condemned the China Coast Guard Sunday for allegedly firing water cannon at its vessels in the disputed South China Sea, describing the actions as “illegal” and “dangerous”.
The latest incident happened Saturday as the Philippine Coast Guard escorted boats carrying food, water, fuel and other supplies for Filipino military personnel stationed at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.
In a statement, the US State Department condemned the Chinese actions, saying they were carried out by the coast guard and “maritime militia”, and that they directly threatened regional peace and stability.
Beijing claims almost all of the sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.
China’s coast guard and navy vessels routinely block or shadow Philippine ships patrolling the contested waters, Manila says.
Saturday’s incident was the first time since November 2021 that the Chinese coast guard had used water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal.
“The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) strongly condemns the China Coast Guard’s (CCG) dangerous maneuvres and illegal use of water cannons against the PCG vessels,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.
“Such actions by the CCG not only disregarded the safety of the PCG crew and the supply boats but also violated international law.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said China’s coast guard had “blocked and water cannoned” one of its chartered resupply vessels.
Due to the “excessive and offensive” actions, a second chartered vessel was unable to unload its cargo for the routine troop rotation and resupply operation, military spokesman Colonel Medel Aguilar said in a statement.
“We call on the China Coast Guard and the Central Military Commission to act with prudence and be responsible in their actions to prevent miscalculations and accidents that will endanger peoples’ lives,” Aguilar said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes over the South China Sea, but former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte was reluctant to criticise his more powerful neighbour as he sought closer ties with Beijing in the hope of attracting investment.
Since taking power in June 2022, however, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on his country’s rights in the sea, and has gravitated towards the United States as he seeks to strengthen defence ties.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing flared earlier this year after a Chinese coast guard vessel allegedly used a military-grade laser against a Philippine coast guard boat near Second Thomas Shoal.
Beijing accused the Philippine boat of intruding into China’s sovereign waters without permission.
After China occupied Mischief Reef in the mid-1990s, the Philippines ran a derelict navy vessel aground on the nearby shoal to assert Manila’s territorial claims in the waters.
Members of the Philippine marines are based there.
In another incident in April a Chinese coast guard ship cut off the Philippine patrol vessel Malapascua as it carried journalists near Second Thomas Shoal.
An AFP team was on another coast guard vessel and witnessed the near-collision.
In that incident, the Malapascua’s commanding officer Rodel Hernandez said the Chinese ship came within 45 metres of his boat and only his quick actions avoided the steel-hulled vessels crashing into each other.