Tensions escalated in the South China Sea as the Philippines accused Chinese coastguard vessels of intentionally colliding with their vessels during a resupply mission at the disputed Second Thomas shoal. This incident marked the most serious confrontation in the disputed waters yet, though no injuries were reported.
China responded to the accusations, claiming that Philippine boats had “bumped dangerously” with their coastguard vessels and that Chinese fishing vessels were present in the area. The Chinese embassy in Manila lodged stern representations against the Philippines for their vessels “trespassing” and called on the Philippines government to stop causing trouble and provocation at sea.
In a show of support for its ally, the United States formally expressed concern over the incident. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated U.S. support for Manila, referring to the Chinese maritime actions as “dangerous and unlawful.”
During a news conference, Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro stated, “Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels, in blatant violation of international law, harassed and intentionally hit” the Philippine supply boat and coastguard ship. He characterized this as a “serious escalation of the illegal activities conducted by the Chinese government in the West Philippine Sea.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called for a security meeting following the incident, and Teodoro acknowledged the support of allies and like-minded nations, including the United States, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, in condemning China’s aggressive actions.
The Philippines has increasingly sought closer ties with the United States under President Marcos’ administration, filing 122 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, in contrast to the pro-China stance of the previous administration.
The disputed Second Thomas shoal, known as Ayungin in Manila and Renai Reef in China, falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and holds a strategic position along one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
Medel Aguilar, the Philippines military spokesperson, highlighted that this incident marked the first time Chinese vessels had resorted to colliding with resupply boats. Images from the incident showed three of the four Philippine boats involved in the resupply mission being surrounded by seven larger Chinese coastguard and maritime militia vessels.
China maintained that its coastguard vessels acted “professionally and restrained” and stated that the Philippine vessels had “intruded in the waters of Renai.”
Teodoro emphasized, “China has no jurisdiction or authority or right to conduct any operations whatsoever” in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded that Beijing’s expansive claim to the South China Sea was groundless, but China has consistently rejected any claim or action based on this ruling.