Chinese coast guard attacks Philippine ship with water cannon in disputed sea, causing injuries

Manila, Philippines –

Chinese coast guard ships attacked a Philippine supply ship with water cannon on Saturday in the latest clash near a disputed sandbar in the South China Sea, injuring navy crew members and seriously damage to the wooden ship, Philippine officials said.

The United States and Japan immediately expressed their support for the Philippines, as well as their alarm over the aggression of Chinese forces off the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been the scene of repeated clashes between Chinese and Filipino ships over the past year.

The sprawling sandbar has been occupied by a small contingent of Philippine navy and marines on an abandoned warship since 1999, but has been surrounded by the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia vessels in an increasingly territorial standoff. tense. It is the second time that the Philippine ship Unaizah May 4 has been damaged by the Chinese coast guard’s water cannon attack in March alone.

The repeated clashes on the high seas have raised fears that they could degenerate into a larger conflict that could bring China and the United States on a collision course.

Washington does not claim the busy seaway, a key global trade route, but has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets in what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations, which China has criticized.

The United States has also repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines – its oldest treaty in Asia – if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft come under armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

Escorted by two Philippine coast guard ships, the Unaizah May 4 was on its way to deliver supplies and a new group of Filipino sailors to the territorial post on the sandbar in the early hours of Saturday when they were blocked and surrounded by coast guard ships. china and suspected militia vessels. .

“Their reckless and dangerous actions culminated in the bombing of Unaizah on May 4, causing severe damage to the ship and injuries to the Filipinos on board,” a Philippine government task force dealing with territorial conflicts said without elaborating. .

The two Philippine coast guard patrol boats maneuvered through the Chinese blockade to treat the injured Filipino crew and tow the crippled supply ship. Another boat managed to transport the new group of Filipino sailors and supplies to the Philippine outpost in the shallow waters of the sandbar despite the Chinese coast guard’s attempt to block them by placing a floating barrier in the waters, Philippine officials said.

Hostilities continued for about eight hours, they said.

“The Philippines will not be deterred – by veiled threats or hostility – from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones,” the government task force said in a statement. “We demand that China demonstrate by deeds and not words that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.”

Chinese coast guard spokesman Gan Yu said the Philippine ships invaded what he said were China’s territorial waters despite repeated warnings. “China’s coast guard implemented lawful regulations, interception and expulsions in a reasonable and professional manner,” Gan said.

Washington’s ambassador to Manila, MaryKay Carlson, said that “the United States stands with the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China’s repeated dangerous maneuvers and water cannons to disrupt” the “lawful activities” of the Philippine coast guard in the economic zone. exclusive to Manila.

Japan’s ambassador-designate in Manila, Endo Kazuya, reiterated his country’s “serious concern over the Chinese coast guard’s repeated dangerous actions in the South China Sea, resulting in Filipino injuries.”

In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims on the busy and rich waterway, which Beijing continues to claim virtually in its entirety despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its expansive claims on grounds historical. .

A video released by the Philippine military shows two Chinese coast guard ships hitting the smaller wooden-hulled ship Unaiza on May 4 with high-pressure water cannons at close range, causing the ship to drift high. sea.

The Chinese coast guard previously attacked the Unaizah on May 4 with high-pressure water cannons in an engagement near the Second Thomas Shoal on March 5, smashing its windshield and slightly wounding a Filipino admiral and four of his men with fragments of glass and debris splinters.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila summoned China’s deputy ambassador after the March 5 clash to convey a protest against the actions of the Chinese coast guard, which it called unacceptable.

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