China and the Philippines exchanged accusations as they clashed in contested South China Sea waters when Chinese vessels obstructed a Philippine supply boat to forces in the area on Sunday, marking the most recent incident in a string of maritime confrontations.
The incident occurred as a Philippine boat was attempting to send supplies to troops stationed on a rusted Second World War-era transport ship used as an outpost on the shoal, prompting China’s coast guard to repeatedly deploy vessels to block the resupply missions.
China's coast guard claimed there was a "slight collision" between one of its ships and the Philippine boat, stating that they were lawfully blocking the vessel from transporting what they termed as "illegal construction materials" to a warship stationed on the shoal.
Manila responded by condemning “in the strongest degree” the “dangerous blocking manoeuvres” of the Chinese vessel.
China’s “dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions” were “in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction”, Manila’s Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.
This incident adds to the ongoing tensions between China and the Philippines, with the former asserting sovereignty over a significant portion of the South China Sea, including areas within the exclusive economic zones of neighbouring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
Notably, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that China's claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis, a decision that China has contested.
Last week, the Philippine military called on China to halt its "dangerous and offensive" actions after a Chinese navy ship shadowed and attempted to cut off a Philippine navy vessel involved in a resupply mission. China had warned the Philippines against further "provocations," emphasising that such actions violated its territorial sovereignty.
The disputed Second Thomas Shoal has been a point of contention between the two countries for years. Manila grounded the BRP Sierra Madre warship in 1999 on the shoal as part of its sovereignty claim, asserting its rights to the area within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Additional reporting by agencies