Philippines says China has raised tensions, leveled up water attacks

COURTESY OF PCG

THE PHILIPPINES on Wednesday accused China’s coast guard of elevating tensions in the South China Sea after two vessels suffered damage from water cannon use by Beijing.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also said the Chinese Coast Guard has leveled up its aggression given its more forceful attacks.

“The Chinese Coast Guard now has elevated the tension and the level of their aggression as well towards the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel,” PCG spokesman Jay Tristan Tarriela told a news briefing on Wednesday.

“This is the first time that we can say that a coast guard vessel has been subjected to a direct water cannon with that kind of pressure that even resulted in structural damage,” he said, noting that “Goliath is becoming more Goliath.”

“They don’t hesitate to use brute force to violate international law,” he added.

Philippine officials have said a coast guard ship and a fishery vessel were damaged when Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannons at them while on their way to the disputed Scarborough Shoal on Tuesday to help Filipino fishermen.

China has previously used water cannons against Philippine Navy-crewed civilian supply vessels in the region.

The PCG on Tuesday said two China Coast Guard ships used jet stream water cannons against its vessel sailing some 1,000 yards away from the Scarborough Shoal, resulting in damage to its railing and canopy.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel, which was also rammed by Chinese vessels three times, had damage to its ventilation, electrical, navigation and radio systems. It also sustained superficial hull damage.

In 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal in the Hague voided China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. It also upheld the rights of small-scale Filipino and Chinese fishermen to fish at Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal is 240 kilometers west of the main Philippine island of Luzon and is nearly 900 kilometers from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese landmass.

A spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in Manila said Scarborough Shoal, which it calls Huangyan Dao, “has always been China’s territory” and urged the Philippines to “stop making infringement and provocations at once and not to challenge China’s resolve to defend our sovereignty.”

“China is incrementally increasing its aggression against the Philippines, while also trying to stay below a level that might result in a direct triggering of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States,” said Raymond M. Powell, SeaLight director at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University.

While China’s actions are intended to signal its determination to assert its so-called “historic rights” to parts of the waterway, they are also “generating unprecedented reputational costs that Beijing won’t find it easy to repair,” he said in an X message.

“China may believe it is winning the battle for the South China Sea, but it is losing far more ground across a number of other fronts by its naked aggression,” Mr. Powell said.

“We have Manila to thank for stripping away Beijing’s false veneer of respectability and showing us the full extent of its mendacity,” he added.

The Philippines’ traditional and nontraditional allies have condemned China’s actions, with the US saying they were “detrimental to regional peace and stability.”

The Philippine Coast Guard on Tuesday also said the Chinese Coast Guard had installed a 380-meter floating barrier that “covers the entire entrance of the shoal.”

The European Union’s top envoy in Manila, Luc Veron, said “dangerous maneuvers, water cannoning, floating barrier or any aggressive behaviors, are a threat to safety of life at sea, the freedom of navigation and the prohibition of the use of force or coercion.”

France’s embassy in Manila said in a statement it opposes “any threat or use of force contrary to international law.”

“The use of water cannons on PCG vessels risks safety and undermines regional stability,” the embassy of New Zealand in Manila said in a statement. “We call for a peaceful resolution of disputes in full accordance with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”

The United Kingdom, Japan, France, Australia, Canada and Finland also expressed concern over the incident.

“The Philippines will not be deterred from pursuing legitimate and lawful activities in our maritime zones, including Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), which is a vital source of livelihood for our fisherfolk,” the National Security Council said in a statement on Tuesday night. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza with Reuters