China blocks Philippine ships in disputed shoal
China’s coast guard said on Sunday it “lawfully” blocked Philippine vessels transporting “illegal construction materials” to a warship at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea. The incident is the latest in a series of confrontations between the two countries over the Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands. However China’s aggression in the region is known worldwide.
The Philippines has been sending supplies to troops stationed on a World War Two-era, transport-ship-turned-military outpost on the shoal, known as the BRP Sierra Madre, since 1999. China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has surrounded the shoal with its coast guard ships and militia vessels to prevent the Philippines from reinforcing the Sierra Madre.
Last week, the Philippine military demanded China stop its “dangerous and offensive” actions, after a Chinese navy ship shadowed and attempted to cut off a Philippine navy vessel conducting a resupply mission. China had warned the Philippines against further “provocations”, saying such acts violated its territorial sovereignty over the disputed territory.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis. The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of trade passes each year.
The Philippine coast guard said it has complied with a presidential order to remove a floating barrier placed by China’s coast guard to prevent Filipino fishing boats from entering a lagoon in the Scarborough Shoal, another disputed feature in the South China Sea. The coast guard said it would continue to protect the rights and interests of Filipino fishermen in the area.