As a US Navy spy plane soared overhead, dozens of Chinese coast guard and supporting vessels followed and ringed Philippine vessels in the latest clash in one of the South China Sea’s most treacherous flashpoints.
A Chinese coast guard vessel reportedly blasted a water cannon at a Philippine motorboat providing food and other supplies to Filipino forces on a corroding naval vessel that serves as the nation’s territorial outpost at Second Thomas Shoal during Friday’s four-hour battle in the high seas.
China has firmly maintained its claim to nearly the entire crucial waterway, infuriating its smaller neighbors and attracting the US, Manila’s treaty partner and China’s primary opponent in the region.
Washington and its allies have deployed military ships and fighter planes to encourage freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as to strengthen deterrence and reassure friends such as the Philippines.
There are fears that the periodic clashes at Second Thomas Shoal, which is within the UN-sanctioned Philippine’s exclusive economic zone, however is claimed by China and encircled by its armada, would spark a military conflict between the US and China.
Officials in the Philippines said on Saturday that they would never take any action that could spark a broader confrontation, but they would not be discouraged from preserving the nation’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea.
Despite China’s blockades and coercive tactics, the Philippine contingent delivered supplies to a number of Filipino marines onboard the BRP Sierra Madre and departed without incident.
The slightly listing Philippine cruiser, supplied by the US, has deteriorated with age but remains operational, implying that an armed attack would be deemed an act of war by Manila.
The risky cat-and-mouse moves amid rough waves were witnessed by two Associated Press journalists and many other members of the media who were allowed on board three Philippine Coast Guard vessels securing two supply boats.
It’s part of a shameful campaign launched by Philippine officials to highlight China’s escalating aggression along one of the world’s most crucial trading corridors.
In response to Friday’s conflict, Washington reiterated its support for its oldest Asian ally in the midst of the People’s Republic of China’s repeated aggression in the South China Sea.
The US State Department reiterated that under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, Washington is committed to defend the Philippines if Filipino personnel, public vessels, or aircraft, which consist of its coast guard, “face an armed attack” anywhere in the South China Sea.
References : Arab News and multiple sources
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