Two Philippine boats successfully breached a Chinese coast guard blockade in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday to deliver food and supplies to Filipino forces guarding a contested shoal. However, the supply boats were met with resistance from at least four Chinese coast guard ships, causing a tense standoff for around five hours. This dangerous encounter is the latest escalation in the long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which involve several countries including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
The Philippine coast guard invited journalists to join their ships in an effort to expose China’s increasing aggression in the region. During the standoff, a Chinese coast guard ship came within 50 yards of the Philippine coast guard ship, forcing it to maneuver quickly to avoid a collision. Two other Philippine boats managed to deliver the supplies and a fresh crew to the Filipino forces at Second Thomas Shoal, while the BRP Cabra and the BRP Sindangan remained surrounded by Chinese coast guard ships and suspected militia vessels.
Despite the blockades and dangerous actions, the resupply mission was successful, and all Philippine vessels sailed away without further incident. The Philippine coast guard condemned the Chinese coast guard blockade as a violation of international regulations and stated that they would submit a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila for a possible diplomatic protest against China.
The hostilities began when a Chinese coast guard ship started tailing the Philippine vessels. Both sides asserted their territorial rights through radio message exchanges, with the Chinese caller warning of countermeasures if the Philippine ships did not back away. Chinese coast guard ships repeatedly crossed the bows of the Philippine vessels and came dangerously close to the supply boats.
The U.S. Navy deployed a surveillance plane that circled overhead for over three hours during the standoff. The reason for the deployment was not immediately clear, but the U.S. embassy spokesperson in Manila stated that all military activities in the Philippines are conducted in coordination with Philippine allies.
The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea but has expressed support for freedom of navigation and resolution of disputes through peaceful means. After a previous incident where a Chinese coast guard ship used a water cannon against a Philippine supply boat, the U.S. warned it would defend its treaty ally if Filipino forces were attacked.
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