- China’s Southern Theatre Command said Philippine warship has been ‘warned off’ near contested Scarborough Shoal
- The Philippines says China is overhyping the latest in a string of recent incidents between the two countries
China’s military has warned off a Philippine warship in the latest of several incidents within the past month between the two countries as tensions mount in the South China Sea.
The PLA Southern Theatre Command said a Philippine vessel on Monday “illegally entered” the waters around Huangyan Island, the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal, which is also claimed by the Philippines.
A statement from Southern Theatre Command spokesperson Tian Junli said the Philippine vessel had “seriously violated” China’s sovereignty.
“The Southern Theatre Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army organised naval and air forces to track and monitor, issue warnings, and block and manage [the Philippine vessel] in accordance with the law,” Tian said.
“The Philippines’ actions seriously violated China’s sovereignty, seriously violated international law and basic norms of international relations, and could easily lead to misunderstanding and misjudgment.”
Tian said that China urged the Philippines to “immediately stop infringement and provocation and effectively avoid further escalation of the situation”.
“Troops in the theatre remain on high alert at all times and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, [as well as] security, peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Tian said.
Manila’s national security adviser Eduardo Año denied that the Philippine ship – a PS39 Pohang-class corvette – had been caught up in an incident with the Chinese military.
Año said the ship was on “routine patrol” in the general vicinity of the island under international law “without any untoward incident”.
“It did not illegally enter any space under Chinese sovereignty … Chinese vessels, as usual, conducted a shadowing movement of PS39,” he said.
“China is again overhyping this incident and creating unnecessary tensions between our two nations.
“Nonetheless, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine coastguard will not be deterred by the aggressive and illegal activities of People’s Liberation Army Navy/China Coast Guard/Militia in the West Philippine Sea,” Año said.
The Chinese coastguard took similar action against a Philippine gunboat near Scarborough Shoal on October 10.
On October 22, the Philippines accused China of hitting two of its ships near Second Thomas Shoal, which is also claimed by both countries. China responded that it had only taken “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty and that these were carried out “professionally and with restraint”.
The encounters are part of an increasing atmosphere of confrontation between Beijing and Manila in the contentious waters, which has coincided with intensified China-US rivalries in the Indo-Pacific, despite recent high-level engagement between the two powers.
After the collision at Second Thomas Shoal, US President Joe Biden said his country would defend the Philippines if it were attacked by the PLA in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also raised the collision with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Washington over the weekend. Blinken said China’s actions were “dangerous and unlawful” and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to its Philippine allies.
Two days after the Second Thomas Shoal incident, a US B-52 strategic bomber and a Chinese J-11 fighter jet had a close encounter over the South China Sea. The US said the PLA plane came within 3 metres (10 feet) of the bomber and almost caused a collision.
Beijing insisted that the action was done professionally to protect China’s sovereignty.