Philippines says Chinese ships rammed, damaged its boats; resupply mission disrupted

MANILA (Reuter-AFP): The Philippine government accused Chinese ships of ramming and damaging its boats in the South China Sea during a confrontation in waters off the Second Thomas Shoal, home to a garrison of Filipino troops.

"The People's Liberation Army-Navy, China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels engaged in dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing," Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea said. "Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats."

China and the Philippines traded accusations over a maritime collision in the South China Sea on Monday, the latest in an increasingly testy series of confrontations over the disputed waters.

Meanwhile, hours later, the United States said in a statement it had completed joint naval exercises in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with its treaty ally as well as Japan and Canada.

China's Coast Guard said a Philippine supply ship "deliberately and dangerously" approached a Chinese ship resulting in a slight collision after it "illegally intruded" into waters near Second Thomas Shoal, a charge that Manila rejected as "deceptive and misleading".

Manila declined to comment directly on the incident, but lashed out at Beijing after a Chinese coast guard statement said the Philippine transport and replenishment ship ignored China's repeated solemn warnings.

"We will not dignify the deceptive and misleading claims of the China Coast Guard (CCG)," said Xerxes Trinidad, chief of the Philippine armed forces' public affairs office, adding they would not discuss operational details of resupply missions.

"The continued aggressive actions of the CCG are escalating tensions in the region," Trinidad said. The Philippine military maintains that the main issue is the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than US$3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela said the agency was not in a position to provide any details on Monday's incident as it was not a coast guard operation.

Separately, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement it had concluded a two-day joint maritime exercise with the militaries of Canada, Japan, and the Philippines within Manila's 200-mile EEZ in the South China Sea.

For months, China and the Philippines have traded barbs over dangerous maneuvers and collisions at the Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll in the Philippines' EEZ.

Several incidents have happened when the Philippines deploys resupply missions for its soldiers living aboard an aging warship in the EEZ.

China has warned the Philippines about intruding into its territorial waters and issued new rules, effective June 15, enforcing a 2021 law allowing its coastguard to use lethal force against foreign ships in waters it claims.

The new rules allow China's coastguard to detain suspected trespassers without trial for 60 days.

In response, the Philippine Coast Guard said separately on Monday it has ordered the deployment of two vessels to patrol and ensure the safety of Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal - about 640 kilometers away from Second Thomas Shoal. - Reuters-AFP

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