Maritime collision escalates South China Sea tensions

South China Sea

Manila has accused Chinese military vessels of engaging in “dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing” a Philippine ship in an effort to disrupt a “routine” resupply mission to an outpost on Second Thomas Shoal (known to the Philippines as Ayungin Shoal) in the the disputed Spratly Islands (known to the Philippines as the Kalayaan Islands) June 17. By Philippine media accounts, the craft was fired upon with water cannon and boarded by Chinese troops, with several Filipino soldiers injured in the ensuing confrontation. (SCMP, Nikkei Asia, Inquirer, GMA)

The skirmish came amid escalating tensions over the South China Sea—much of which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, but nearly all of which is claimed by Beijing.

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., stated June 14 that the military and other maritime law enforcement agencies are prepared to defend Filipino fishermen from China’s “anti-trespassing policy.”

China’s Coast Guard issued Order No. 3 on May 15, authorizing its personnel to detain foreign ships and crews for up to 60 days without trial within waters claimed by Beijing. This implicitly includes disputed waters of the South China Sea—nearly all of which is claimed by Beijing, despite rival claims to portions of it by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A statement from the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said that Order No. 3 “illegally expanded the maritime law enforcement powers of China’s Coast Guard.” The department also stated that enforcing the Order would constitute a “direct violation of international law,” particularly affecting “areas of the West Philippine Sea.” Manila typically uses the term “West Philippine Sea” to refer to parts of the South China Sea that it holds to be within its national territory or exclusive economic zone.

The New Masinloc Fishermen’s Association expressed support for Gen. Brawner’s stance.

The US State Department has rejected China’s assertion of “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters” and claim to “sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil.” (Jurist)

Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs also filed a claim with the UN on June 15 to formally recognize the boundaries of its underwater continental shelf in the South China Sea, granting it exclusive rights to utilize the area’s resources. The Philippines filed the claim with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf following more than 15 years of scientific research on the scope of its undersea shelf in the South China Sea, located off the western coast of Palawan archipelagic province.

The resource-rich undersea area for which the Philippines is seeking formal recognition of its sovereign rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) includes the Spratlys. The filing noted that under Article 76 of the UNCLOS, a coastal state may have exclusive rights to exploit resources on its continental shelf, including the authority to permit and regulate drilling activities.

This is the second time the Philippines has filed a claim with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The first claim was in 2009 for the area formerly known as Benham Rise, now the Philippine Rise, which the Commission officially recognized in April 2012. In the 2009 submission, Manilla stated its intention to reserve the right to submit claims for additional areas in the future. (Jurist)

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in its dispute with China over the South China Sea. Manila brought the case in 2013 disputing Beijing’s territorial claims, a move China decried as “unilateral.” The PCA concluded that China does not have the right to resources within its “nine-dash line,” an area covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer Sea.

Map via IDSA

  1. Manila not to invoke mutual defense pact with US —this time

    The Philippines announced June 21 that it does not intend to invoke its mutual defense treaty with the US following an incident captured on video where the Chinese coast guard allegedly boarded two Philippine navy boats, with a Philippine sailor sustaining serious injuries. The Chinese Coast Guard sailors were attempting to block a resupply mission at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. (Jurist)

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