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Video: China Coast Guard Blockades Philippine Outpost in S. China Sea

brp sierra madre
The outpost aboard the beached landing craft BRP Sierra Madre, a makeshift outpost at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea (Philippine Naval Forces West)

Published Nov 19, 2021 5:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The latest Chinese attempt to blockade Philippine forces at Second Thomas Shoal has drawn rebukes from Manila and Washington. According to the Philippine government, three China Coast Guard patrol ships used water cannon to repel a Philippine resupply convoy for the shoal's garrison. 

No injuries were reported, but the convoy was forced to turn back, and its cargo of food for the soldiers on Second Thomas Shoal was not delivered. 

China has long maintained a maritime force in the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal, an isolated Philippine military outpost in the Spratly Islands. Chinese vessel assets have often blocked Philippine resupply attempts in the past, including a five-month period in 2013-14 in which no support vessels could get through.

The outpost on Second Thomas Shoal is a beached WWII-era landing craft, run aground as a makeshift shelter in 1999. It provides a base for a small squad of Philippine troops, who remain on the island in order to prevent Chinese forces from seizing it - as the Chinese government has already done with multiple land features in the Philippine EEZ.

In a statement, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin slammed the latest Chinese blockade action at Second Thomas Shoal. "China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off," he said. "The Philippines will continue to provide supplies to our troops in [Second Thomas Shoal]. We do not ask permission to do what we need to do in our territory."

China regards the vast majority of the South China Sea as its territorial seas, including the Spratly Islands, which are located some 600 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese shore. In a statement, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry said that the Philippine resupply boats at the Philippines' Second Thomas Shoal "trespassed into waters near Ren'ai Jiao of China's Nansha Qundao without China's consent." From China's perspective, the China Coast Guard vessels "performed official duties in accordance with law and upheld China's territorial sovereignty and maritime order" by using their water cannon. 

The interaction brought a negative official response from Manila and Washington, including a reminder that the United States guarantees the Philippines' security.

"Our resupply vessels were harassed again near [Second Thomas Shoal]. Filipinos should not be looked down on like this. Our victory at the arbitral ruling will be our basis so that we can continue protecting what is ours," said Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, who is running for the presidency in the next election. 

The U.S. also rebuked China for escalating tensions in the region and interfering with freedom of navigation. 

“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of this escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability, escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” warned U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement. "An armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty . . . The United States strongly believes that PRC actions asserting its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims undermine peace and security in the region."