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Philippines military chief voices anger after latest confrontations with Beijing in South China Sea

by Chloe Baker
4 comments
South China Sea Tensions

The Philippine military’s top-ranking official, General Romeo Brawner Jr., expressed his strong dismay in the wake of recent confrontations between Filipino forces and Chinese coast guard ships in the disputed South China Sea. In a candid telephone interview with The Big Big News, General Brawner disclosed that he had been present aboard a supply boat when it faced a barrage from a water cannon and was subsequently encircled and bumped by Chinese vessels.

This incident represents an alarming escalation of China’s assertiveness in the contested waters. However, General Brawner emphasized that such provocations would not deter Filipino forces from safeguarding the territorial interests of the Philippines in this bustling maritime region.

Of particular concern is the presence of over 100 Chinese government and suspected militia ships near the contested Second Thomas Shoal. Notably, this swarm of Chinese vessels is significantly larger than what has been observed in previous months. General Brawner firmly characterized these actions as “pure aggression,” recounting instances where Chinese coast guard and militia ships obstructed their path, utilized water cannons, and engaged in physical contact with the Filipino supply boat.

While advocating for a diplomatic resolution at higher levels, General Brawner affirmed the Philippines’ commitment to its lawful mission of supplying troops on the frontlines and safeguarding its fishermen. To underscore this commitment, he personally joined the crew of the Unnaiza Mae 1, a wooden-hulled supply boat, to deliver Christmas gifts, provisions, and sustenance to Filipino marines and naval personnel stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the Second Thomas Shoal.

Despite the Sierra Madre’s deteriorating condition, it retains its status as an actively commissioned Philippine navy vessel. Any hostile action taken against it would be deemed an act of war. This aging ship serves as a fragile symbol of the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea, which are in direct contention with China’s expansive territorial assertions.

The history of this territorial standoff dates back to 1999 when the Philippines intentionally grounded the Sierra Madre in the shallows of Scarborough Shoal. China subsequently surrounded the atoll with its coast guard, navy, and suspected militia ships, effectively isolating Filipino forces stationed there. This protracted territorial dispute has repeatedly flared, making it one of the most sensitive flashpoints in the South China Sea and a key fault line in the regional rivalry between the United States and China.

The United States has consistently emphasized its obligation to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, in the event of any armed attack, including incidents in the South China Sea. In contrast, China has sternly warned against international meddling in what it insists is a purely Asian dispute.

General Brawner conveyed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s warm Christmas greetings to the Filipino personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, sharing a traditional hand-eaten rice lunch with them. Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila summoned the Chinese ambassador and filed diplomatic protests against Beijing’s actions.

In a press conference, Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the Philippine coast guard, characterized the Chinese coast guard’s conduct as “barbaric” and reaffirmed that the Philippine coast guard would not deploy water cannons against Chinese ships. Calls for action have been voiced, with Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urging Marcos to consider expelling the Chinese ambassador. However, the response from the Marcos administration remains uncertain.

President Marcos himself emphasized that the recent aggression and provocations by the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia have only fortified the Philippines’ determination to safeguard its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the South China Sea.

Over the weekend, Philippine officials reported that Chinese coast guard and suspected militia vessels had targeted Philippine vessels on two consecutive days, employing water cannon blasts and ramming one of them, resulting in damage and endangering Filipino crew members. These actions drew condemnation not only from the Philippines but also from the United States, Japan, and numerous other countries, including the European Union, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia.

The Chinese coast guard’s high-pressure water cannon attacks rendered the Philippine supply boat M/L Kalayaan inoperable, necessitating its return to a Philippine port. Furthermore, one of the Philippine coast guard escort ships, the BRP Cabra, suffered damage to its mast due to the water cannon assault.

China’s response, as conveyed by its coast guard, framed its actions as in accordance with laws and regulations while asserting that the Philippines had infringed on China’s sovereignty. They also claimed that a Philippine vessel had acted unprofessionally and dangerously, colliding with a Chinese coast guard ship, resulting in minor scratching.

The U.S. State Department strongly condemned China’s actions as dangerous and unlawful, citing their detrimental impact on regional stability. It reiterated its commitment to defending Philippine forces in the event of an armed attack.

China, however, has consistently rejected international criticism and legal interventions, including a 2016 ruling by a U.N.-backed arbitration tribunal that invalidated its claims in the South China Sea. China maintains its legal right to “defend its sovereignty” in line with its extensive territorial assertions.

Notably, in a separate incident, Chinese coast guard and accompanying ships directed water cannons at three Philippine fisheries vessels, causing damage to one and employing a long-range acoustic device that could cause temporary hearing impairment to Filipino crew members.

In other incidents this year, Philippines officials reported that Chinese coast guard ships had used military-grade lasers, temporarily blinding Filipino crew members, and engaged in dangerous blocking and shadowing maneuvers, leading to minor collisions.

It is a situation that continues to escalate, raising concerns not only in the Philippines but also among the international community as regional tensions in the South China Sea persist.

[Note: The article has been paraphrased and expanded for clarity and detail while adhering to the formal and serious tone requested.]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about South China Sea Tensions

What led to the recent tensions in the South China Sea?

The recent tensions in the South China Sea were triggered by confrontations between Filipino forces and Chinese coast guard ships. These confrontations involved water cannon blasts, encirclement, and physical contact between vessels.

Why is the Second Thomas Shoal significant in this context?

The Second Thomas Shoal is significant because it is a contested area where a long-marooned Philippine navy ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, has stood for decades. It symbolizes the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea, which conflict with China’s expansive assertions.

What is the United States’ stance on these tensions?

The United States has consistently stated that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, in the event of an armed attack, including incidents in the South China Sea. This has contributed to the complex regional dynamics.

How has the international community reacted to these tensions?

Numerous countries, including the European Union, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia, have expressed support for the Philippines and alarm over the incidents. They have condemned the actions of the Chinese coast guard and associated ships.

What legal basis does China claim for its actions in the South China Sea?

China maintains that it has a legal right to “defend its sovereignty” in accordance with its extensive territorial claims. However, this stance has been challenged, including by a 2016 ruling by a U.N.-backed arbitration tribunal that invalidated China’s claims.

More about South China Sea Tensions

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4 comments

AsiaObserver December 11, 2023 - 9:39 am

US says they gotta protect Philippines, oldest buddy in Asia. China says stay outta their biz. What a mess!

Reply
Reader101 December 11, 2023 - 7:52 pm

So, this article says Philippines military’s top guy’s mad at China’s ships in South China Sea? He’s all like, they blasted our boat with water cannon and stuff. Crazy, right?

Reply
NewsEnthusiast55 December 12, 2023 - 1:49 am

The Second Thomas Shoal sounds important. They say it’s like a big symbol of Philippines’ land claims in South China Sea. Who knew?

Reply
GlobalCitizen23 December 12, 2023 - 6:58 am

So, like, lots of countries are mad at China for what they did in South China Sea. EU, Canada, Australia, they’re all like, “Not cool, China!”

Reply

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