China Says Coast Guard ‘Drove Away’ US Ally at Disputed Territory

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The Chinese coast guard on Monday said it expelled a Philippine boat that it said had “intruded” into waters near a contested feature in the South China Sea.

In a brief statement published to its official account on China’s do-everything app WeChat, the agency identified the vessel as a Philippine Coast Guard boat, which it “drove away according to the law.”

The episode took place near Scarborough Shoal in the Spratly Islands, ownership of which is contested by half a dozen regional states on the energy-rich South China Sea, which is also home to some of the world’s business shipping lanes.

Scarborough Shoal—known as Bajo de Masinloc in Manila and Huangyan Island in Beijing—is less than 140 miles from the Philippines’ most populous island, Luzon, but some 680 miles from the closest Chinese province, Hainan.

As a submerged reef, the shoal does not qualify for territorial waters under maritime law. However, it is situated within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coastline, and where that country has a sovereign right to exploit underwater natural resources.

China gained effective control over the area in 2012 during a dispute with the Philippines over fishing rights.

“It is inconsistent with international law for the Philippines to claim sovereignty over Huangyan Island on the grounds of its comparative proximity to Philippine territory, or claim sovereign rights and jurisdiction on the grounds that Huangyan Island is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Friday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Philippines armed forces did not immediately respond to Newsweek‘s written requests for comment.

Also on Friday, Ray Powell, director of the Standford University-affiliated project SeaLight, shared ship-tracking data on social media that appeared to show China Coast Guard ship number 3105 and the Philippine patrol ship BRP Teresa Magbanua sailing in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.

However, both vessels went off the grid by disengaging their automatic identification system, or AIS, equipmment, according to Powell, who found the Chinese crew briefly turned theirs back on 12 hours later.

The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations special agency, requests that large ships continuously broadcast their position via AIS to avoid collisions at sea.

In a follow-up post on Monday, Powell said the Philippine ship likely had concluded its patrol near the shoal and departed without incident.

“The [China Coast Guard] language that it ‘drove away’ a [Philippine Coast Guard] ship is typical [China] bluster used anytime a rival vessel leaves an area where they don’t want it to be,” he said.

This photo taken on November 10, 2023, shows China Coast Guard personnel sailing an aluminum hulled boat at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. Second Thomas Shoal is one of the most…


Jam Sta Rosa/Getty Images

The pattern appeared to be consistent with Beijing’s recent attempts to assert sovereignty over contested features, including those over which it has no de facto control.

When its ships failed to intervene last week in a Philippine supply mission to another disputed territory, Second Thomas Shoal, the China Coast Guard said it monitored the operation, suggesting its government had granted permission.

Simiarly, following a rare Philippine supply airdrop at the atoll in January—to send provisions to Manila’s contingent of marines on the grounded warship the BRP Sierra Madre—Beijing said it had allowed the mission under “temporary, special arrangements.”

China’s coast guard said it “supervised and controlled” the latest Philippine mission to deliver “daily necessities” to the Sierra Madre and its crew. The Philippines—a decades-old U.S. treaty ally—denied it had sought prior approval from Beijing.

“We do not need to get the permission of anyone, including the Chinese coast guard, if we bring supplies through whatever means, whether it’s through ship or by air,” Philippine National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told the People’s Television Network state broadcaster late last month.

It was unclear what deal, if at all, was struck between the two capitals. However, the Chinese response was a departure from its reactions in recent months, which included blockades by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels, water cannon fire, and ramming, among other risky maneuvers.