Wednesday April 17th, 2024 8:17AM

Philippine and Chinese boats collide in their latest confrontation over a South China Sea shoal

By The Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels collided in the South China Sea on Tuesday in the two nations’ latest confrontation over the disputed waters, as Southeast Asian leaders gathered for a summit in Australia where alarm over Beijing’s aggression at sea was expected to be raised.

The Chinese coast guard ships and accompanying vessels blocked the Philippine vessels off a disputed shoal and executed dangerous maneuvers that resulted in the minor collision between a Chinese coast guard ship and one of two Philippine coast guard vessels, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said. The BRP Sindangan had minor structural damage, Tarriela said without providing other details.

Tarriela's post on the X platform did not say where the confrontation took place, but the military earlier said the navy was delivering supplies and fresh personnel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, the site of several tense skirmishes between Chinese and Philippine coast guard ships and accompanying vessels last year.

The Philippine coast guard ships were escorting navy personnel who were aboard two civilian supply boats, one of which was hit by water cannon blast by the Chinese, Philippine military spokesperson Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said, adding it was not immediately clear if any crewmember was injured or if the boat was damaged.

“Throughout the operation, the Philippine coast guard vessels faced dangerous maneuvers and blocking from Chinese coast guard vessels and Chinese maritime militia,” Tarriela said. “Their reckless and illegal actions led to a collision."

The Chinese coast guard said in a statement that "it took control measures in accordance with the law against Philippine ships that illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to Ren'ai Reef,” the name Beijing uses for Second Thomas Shoal.

A Chinese coast guard spokesperson said a Philippine ship deliberately rammed a Chinese coast guard vessel, causing a minor scratch.

The long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea are expected to be discussed at a summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their Australian counterpart in Melbourne.

Ahead of Wednesday’s summit, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a forum in the Australian city that his administration “will do whatever it takes” to manage any threat to his country’s territory but stressed that Manila would continue “to tread the path of dialogue and diplomacy” in resolving disputes with China.

Philippine security officials have accused the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships of blocking Philippine vessels and using water cannons and a military-grade laser that temporarily blinded some Filipino crewmen in a series of high-seas confrontations last year.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila accused the Philippines of frequent provocative moves in the South China Sea and said China acted "in accordance with law to defend its own sovereignty, rights and interests."

The confrontations have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the United States.

Chinese and Philippine officials met in Shanghai in January and agreed to take steps to lower tensions but their latest confrontation at sea underscores the difficulty of doing so.

The United States has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea. China has warned the U.S. to stop meddling in what it calls a purely Asian dispute.

Brunei, Malaysia Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the strategic waterway, a major global trade route which is also believed to be sitting atop rich undersea deposits of oil and gas.

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Follow AP's Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News
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