Chinese Ships Shadow Philippine Vessels in Ayungin Shoal

A Chinese vessel shown from afar shadowing Philippine Navy vessels during the 2nd AFP-USINDOPACOM Maritime Cooperative Activity in West Philippine Sea on January 3, 2024.Screengrab from Armed Forces of the Philippines Video
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MANILA, Philippines: Recent reports indicate that there has been ongoing activity in the West Philippine Sea involving Chinese maritime militia (CMM) ships and the China Coast Guard (CCG). At least six CMM ships were observed in Ayungin Shoal, while another CCG vessel was seen shadowing Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels during a resupply mission in the area.

According to United States maritime security expert Ray Powell, the CCG vessel with the identification number 5205 closely followed the PCG ships BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan as they moved past Escoda (Sabina) Shoal. This activity highlights the continued presence and surveillance by Chinese vessels in the region.

Earlier in the day, China had deployed six CMM ships in anticipation of a Philippine Rotation and Resupply (RoRe) mission to deliver supplies to Filipino troops stationed on board the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. Powell noted that the CMM ships relocated west of the shoal, indicating their awareness of the upcoming resupply mission and their expectation of potential action.

The South China Sea Probing Initiative, a research network established by Beijing, had previously announced that it expected the Philippines to conduct a RoRe mission in the coming days. However, a recent resupply mission turned out to be a search-and-rescue operation carried out by BRP Cabra on January 2. Powell mentioned that the SCS Probing Initiative’s prediction was initially off by about 12 days.

During the previous RoRe mission, a CCG ship collided with a Philippine vessel, and Philippine vessels and resupply boats experienced reckless and dangerous harassment by CCG and CMM vessels as they approached the shoal. Powell commented that the current deployment of China’s blockading force from Mischief Reef suggests that something significant may be about to happen.

In response to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s characterization of Philippine activities as “provocative military activities” and “irresponsible,” National Security Adviser Secretary Eduardo Año clarified that the joint maritime activities between the Philippines and the United States were conducted within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in accordance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Año emphasized that these activities were not provocative but rather a demonstration of the Philippines’ sovereign right to engage in such exercises within its territory. The joint patrols with the United States aim to enhance maritime capabilities and interoperability to ensure the security and stability of the region. Additionally, these joint patrols signify the commitment to a rules-based international order and the promotion of peace and stability in the region.

Año further highlighted the significant improvement in the Philippines’ defense capabilities and the development of a world-class navy and armed forces capable of defending the country’s territorial integrity and maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea. Despite these activities, the Philippines remains open to diplomatic discussions with China and reaffirms its commitment to fostering good relations with all nations.

The situation in the West Philippine Sea continues to be closely monitored, as international observers assess the implications of ongoing activities by Chinese maritime militia and coast guard vessels. The Philippines, along with its allies, remains committed to upholding international law and ensuring the security and stability of the region through peaceful dialogue and diplomatic resolutions.

Source: The Manila Times

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