On Friday, the Philippines alleged that China used a water cannon to blast one of its supply vessels in the ongoing tensions in the contested South China Sea. Philippine authorities contended that China’s actions not only jeopardized the safety of their people but also cast doubt on the sincerity of China’s professed commitment to peaceful dialogue.
China asserted that its actions were by maritime law, defending what it claims to be its territorial rights in the South China Sea.
The recent incident near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands occurred approximately three weeks after two collisions involving Chinese and Philippine vessels during a resupply mission to the same small garrison. These events unfold against the backdrop of a longstanding history of maritime disputes between the two nations in the fiercely contested waters of the South China Sea.
According to a statement from the Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, a Chinese coast guard vessel reportedly used a water cannon against a Philippine boat. The task force revealed that the Philippine embassy in Beijing has formally filed a protest with the Chinese foreign ministry in response to this incident.
A small number of Filipino troops are positioned on the deteriorating BRP Sierra Madre, intentionally grounded on a reef by the Philippine Navy in 1999 to counter China’s expansion in the region. The survival of these troops relies on regular resupply missions.
China asserts control over almost the entire South China Sea, a vital route for trillions of dollars in annual trade, and has disregarded a 2016 international ruling that invalidated the legal basis of its claim. Over the past decade, Beijing has deployed vessels for patrols, occupied reefs, and constructed militarized artificial islands to fortify its position.
Second Thomas Shoal is situated approximately 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island.
Under the Marcos administration, there has been open criticism of China’s actions in the South China Sea. The government has gone so far as to release photos and videos to substantiate its allegations of Chinese harassment and interference with Philippine vessels.
The South China Sea is often viewed as a possible trigger for global conflict. Recent tensions between Manila and Beijing have sparked apprehension among Western analysts who fear that these disputes might escalate into an international incident. This concern stems from the possibility that China, as a global power, could choose to adopt a more assertive stance against the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally.