By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Dec 9 (Reuters) – The Philippines condemned China’s “illegal and aggressive actions” in the South China Sea on Saturday, saying its coast guard had fired water cannon at a Philippine fisheries bureau vessel conducting a regular resupply mission.
The Philippine task force for the South China Sea, an inter-agency government body, called for China to stop its “aggressive activities” in the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both countries.
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said in a post on the social media platform X that China’s behavior “violates international law and endangers lives and livelihoods.”
She said the U.S. stood by the Philippines in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
China said earlier that it took “control measures” against three Philippine fishing vessels that had intruded into waters near Scarborough Shoal, state media reported.
The incident comes ahead of Dec. 10, when the Philippines plans to deploy a Christmas convoy of around 40 Philippine vessels to distribute gifts and other provisions to residents in Thitu island, the Philippines’ largest occupied island in the South China Sea, and to troops garrisoned on an aging warship in the Second Thomas shoal.
The Philippines task force said three fisheries bureau vessels were on a supply mission on Saturday to provide oil and groceries to more than 30 Filipino fishing vessels near the Scarborough shoal when they came under fire from Chinese water cannons at least eight times.
A fisheries vessel was “directly and deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard,” the task force said, causing damage to communication and navigation equipment.
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“To prevent the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane,” the task force said, adding that China deployed boats to drive away Filipino fishing vessels awaiting supply, and to illegally install a floating barrier.
Chinese Maritime Militia vessels were also reported to have engaged in “dangerous maneuvers” and deployed a long-range acoustic device that resulted in temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew, the task force said.
The Scarborough Shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Beijing seized it in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by William Mallard and Neil Fullick)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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