Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over South China Sea boat collisions

Collisions near Second Thomas Shoal have further stoked tension over competing claims to the South China Sea

This image released by the Philippines shows a Chinese vessel, left, near the grounded Philippine coastguard vessel BRP Cabra on Sunday. AP
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The Philippines has summoned China's ambassador over two collisions between Philippine and Chinese vessels in the disputed South China Sea.

The countries traded blame over Sunday's incidents near Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll that is part of the Spratly Islands, with both sides releasing videos to support their accusations.

The collisions happened during a routine Philippine resupply mission to Filipino troops stationed on a navy vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre that is grounded on the shoal to assert Manila's territorial claims.

“We're making full use of diplomatic processes … available to us. That includes summoning the Chinese ambassador, which we did this morning,” Philippine Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Teresita Daza told reporters on Monday.

Ms Daza said the ambassador, Huang Xilian, was unavailable and was represented by his deputy chief of mission during the meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

Mr Huang was last summoned to the Foreign Ministry in August after China's coastguard used water cannon on Philippine vessels near Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll that the Philippines calls the Ayungin Shoal.

“Ayungin Shoal is part of our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and we have sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it,” said Ms Daza.

“China, as a major power, bears a heavier responsibility of contributing to peace and stability in the region,” she said.

The Philippines accused a Chinese coastguard vessel of “reckless manoeuvres” that led to a collision with a wooden boat contracted by the armed forces to deliver provisions to Filipino troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre.

Beijing said the “slight collision” happened after the supply boat ignored “multiple warnings and deliberately passed through law enforcement in an unprofessional and dangerous manner”, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday, citing the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

In another incident, a Philippine coastguard vessel escorting the routine resupply mission was “bumped” by what the Philippine task force described as a “Chinese maritime militia vessel”.

However, China accused the Philippine boat of “deliberately” stirring up trouble by reversing in a “premeditated manner” into a Chinese fishing vessel.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

Officials and experts have warned of the potential for collisionsas China moves to assert its claims to sovereignty over the waters.

China's sweeping territorial claims, including over islands closer to the Philippine shore, have raised tension and brought the US, a long-time treaty ally of the Philippines, into the fray.

The US issued a message of support for the Philippines through the State Department on Sunday, saying it stood with Manila in the face of what it called China's repeated “harassment” in the South China Sea, and describing Beijing's actions as “dangerous” and “unlawful”.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also reaffirmed that the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty extended to attacks on Philippine forces and vessels in the South China Sea.

Second Thomas Shoal is about 200km from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000km from China's nearest major land mass, Hainan island.

The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded the Second World War-era BRP Sierra Madre there in 1999 to check China's advance in the waters.

The troops stationed on the crumbling ship depend on regular supply deliveries for their survival.

The Philippines has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratlys.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: October 23, 2023, 6:13 AM