Manila denounces Chinese Navy’s maneuvers in disputed waters

China raised the stakes by deploying one of its navy ships in the ongoing dispute, according to analysts.
By Camille Elemia for BenarNews
2023.10.17
Manila denounces Chinese Navy’s maneuvers in disputed waters A Chinese navy ship is seen sailing in the South China Sea, Oct. 4, 2023.
Adrian Portugal / Reuters

The Philippine military chief accused China’s navy of “dangerously” shadowing a Philippine ship during a rare standoff between the navies from the two countries on Oct. 13 amid heightened tensions over contested waters. 

Analysts said Beijing was raising the stakes to goad Manila in their bilateral dispute over the Spratly Islands by bringing in one of its naval ships during the encounter near Thitu island in the South China Sea.

“These dangerous offensive maneuvers by China’s [People’s Liberation Army Navy] not only risk collision but also directly endanger the lives of maritime personnel from both sides,” Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr, chief of the Philippine armed forces, said in a statement on Sunday. 

“The [Armed Forces of the Philippines] remains committed to ensuring the safety of its personnel during missions and asserts that it will continue to adhere to the rules-based international order.”

The standoff occurred on Friday near Manila-occupied Thitu, an island in the Spratlys, said Lt. Col. Enrico Gil Ileto, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), adding that the Chinese ship came as close as 80 yards (73.1 meters) to the Filipino ship.

The standoff was believed to be the first one between a Chinese and a Philippine navy ship in recent years. In recent months, there have been many more tense encounters between coast guard ships of the two claimant countries. 

The Philippine ship was en route to Commodore Reef, located within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, as part of a resupply mission when the standoff took place, according to the Philippine military.

The Chinese warship appeared to be a Type 056 corvette of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, designed mainly for patrol and escort missions.

“Zhongye Dao is China’s territory. The Philippines has illegally occupied Zhongye Dao, which seriously violates China’s sovereignty. The Chinese warship’s navigation and patrol in waters of Zhongye Dao is lawful and legitimate,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a regular press conference on Monday, referring to Thitu by its Chinese name.

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Apart from China and the Philippines, other countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea are Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia. Taiwan is also a claimant.

In 2016, a U.N. arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines, saying that China’s historical claims to the sea region as delineated then in Chinese maps by a nine-dash line (now a 10-dash line) were invalid. But Beijing rejected the ruling and has since insisted that it has jurisdiction over all areas within that boundary.

Manila had brought Beijing to the court in 2012 after accusing its naval ships of blocking the Philippines’ access to Scarborough Shoal, which has remained under China’s administrative control ever since.

Thitu Island, near which the alleged “shadowing” took place, has been under the Philippines’ occupation since the 1970s, but China, Vietnam, and Taiwan have also placed their claims over the 37-acre island. 

Upping ‘the ante’

The deployment of a military ship means Beijing is raising the stakes in the territorial dispute, Collin Koh, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told BenarNews.

“In the current context of rising tensions over the past several months, putting the navy on the front together with the coast guard and maritime militia would represent Beijing trying to up the ante,” he said.

A Chinese coast guard ship (left) sails past the grounded Philippine navy ship where marines are stationed to assert Manila’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP
A Chinese coast guard ship (left) sails past the grounded Philippine navy ship where marines are stationed to assert Manila’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP

The heightened tension also comes at a time when Manila continues to broaden and deepen its security ties with the U.S. and other Western allies.

“Beijing sees such developments as critical for its narrowly driven regional ambitions,” Don Mclain Gill, a Manila-based geopolitical analyst who teaches at De La Salle University, told BenarNews. “The ramping up of Chinese provocations is a sign of this anxiety in Beijing.”

Last week, China conducted a multiple-day naval exercise in the South China Sea as the Philippines held major drills with the United States and other allied nations.

“China is now trying to navigate how far it can go to provoke the Philippines and alter the security dynamics of the region without triggering a shooting war,” Gill added.

BenarNews is an RFA affiliated online news organization.

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