China to allow temporary special arrangement, permitting Philippines to deliver supplies to troops at disputed reef

The Chinese coastguard’s decision to permit the Philippines to deliver supplies is being described as a “temporary special arrangement,” suggesting a nuanced shift in the dynamics surrounding the disputed reef.

The Chinese coastguard has declared that it has made “temporary special arrangements” to permit the Philippines to deliver essential supplies to troops stationed on a World War Two-era vessel grounded at the contested Second Thomas Shoal. The reef, located 190 kilometres off the Philippine island of Palawan, has been a longstanding source of tension between China and the Philippines.

The grounded transport ship reprocessed as a military outpost, has been a focal point of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippines has consistently sought to deliver supplies to its troops stationed on the vessel, but earlier attempts were hindered by the Chinese coastguard, which deployed vessels to block these missions.

The Chinese coastguard’s decision to permit the Philippines to deliver supplies is being described as a “temporary special arrangement,” suggesting a nuanced shift in the dynamics surrounding the disputed reef.

The Second Thomas Shoal has been a flashpoint in the South China Sea territorial disputes, with both China and the Philippines laying claim to the region. Late on Saturday, the Chinese coastguard in a statement on its official WeChat account said that it had permitted required and necessary supplies, but also that it would resolutely defend the sovereignty of China and maritime rights and interests at the Second Thomas Shoal and its adjacent waters.

The statement on WeChat also said, “On January 21, a small aircraft from the Philippines airdropped supplies to the illegally beached warship.” The statement further added that the Chinese coastguard had followed up and monitored the situation in real-time, took control over and dealt with it according to the laws and regulations, and also made temporary special arrangements for the Philippines to restock necessary daily supplies. The recent supply arrangement may signal a willingness on China’s part to engage in dialogue and ease tensions in the South China Sea.

China mostly claims its sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. It points to a line cutting into the exclusive economic areas of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. The WeChat message of Saturdays says that the ‘relevant parties’ in the Philippines had intentionally misled the international opinion and avoided the facts, and that did not help ease tension in the South China Sea.