From BRP Cabra, November 11 (AP) Dozens of Chinese coast guard ships chased and surrounded Philippine ships in the South China Sea as a US Navy surveillance plane kept a close watch.
During the four-hour confrontation on Friday, a Chinese coast guard ship fired splashdown towards a Philippine motorboat that had come to deliver food and other supplies to troops stationed on a Philippine warship at Second Thomas Shoal.
China claims almost the entire strategic waterway and is often in conflict with smaller neighboring countries over it.
The United States and its allies have deployed naval ships and warplanes to promote freedom of navigation and overflight, deter deterrence, and reassure allies such as the Philippines.
There are fears that repeated confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal could trigger armed conflict, which could bring the US and China face to face.
Philippine officials said Saturday they would never take any action that could provoke a major conflict, but would not back down from defending the country’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea.
Despite the Chinese blockade, the Philippine contingent managed to supply food and essential supplies to the Philippine Marines aboard the BRP Sierra Madre.
The Philippine Coast Guard said at least 38 Chinese vessels were spotted around Second Thomas Shoal on Friday.
One of the Philippine Coast Guard ships, BRP Cabra, was surrounded by the Chinese Coast Guard and other ships five times, but each time it managed to get away from them.
Washington responded to Friday’s confrontation by reiterating that it stands with its longtime ally the Philippines “in the face of China’s repeated aggression in the South China Sea.” The US said it is committed to the defense of the Philippines under the 1951 treaty.
AP Amit Suresh