The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that at least four Chinese coast guard ships shadowed a Philippine ship over 40 times last week as they attempted to block it from patrolling near the Scarborough Shoal. Specifically, the PCG stated that it deployed the BRP Teresa Magbanua for a nine-day maritime patrol around the Scarborough Shoal on Feb. 1 to assist and distribute food to 100 Filipino fishermen operating in the area. During the patrol, the Philippine vessel was shadowed by four China Coast Guard (CCG) ships over 40 occasions, and at one point, they came within 176 meters of the side of the vessel.
The Chinese ships engaged in “dangerous and blocking maneuvers” and crossed the bow of the PCG vessel twice during the encounter. In response, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) alleged that the PCG vessel “illegally intruded” into its territory and said that its coast guards “implemented measures according to law.” In further response, Collin Koh, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, refuted the CCP’s claims and stated that the Chinese coast guard ships’ actions violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Scarborough Shoal, located in the South China Sea, is part of the Spratly Islands and is strategically located along crucial international waterways. Both the Philippines and China assert sovereignty over the shoal, with the Philippines referring to it as “Bajo de Masinloc,” while Beijing calls it “Huangyan Island.” The area is a vital maritime trade route worth over $3 trillion annually and is claimed in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and others.
The incidents followed standoffs between Chinese and Philippine vessels that occurred in December, which saw Chinese coast guard ships fire high-pressure water cannons at three Philippine vessels. Filipino ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez warned that conflict between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea could ignite at any time and that the area could be a flashpoint for a potential world war. He also stated that efforts to discuss the issue with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the APEC summit were fruitless, as Xi Jinping was “noncommittal” on the matter.