China Spots Armed Soldiers on Philippine Military Outpost in S. China Sea

Philippine personnel aboard BRP Sierra Madre (Chinese state media)
Philippine personnel aboard BRP Sierra Madre (Chinese state media)

Published Jun 3, 2024 3:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

New footage released by Chinese state news network CGTN shows that China's maritime forces have operated small boats within a few hundred yards of the BRP Sierra Madre, the wrecked WWII landing ship that serves as a Philippine military outpost on Second Thomas Shoal. The reef is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines has defended it against China's expansionist claims since 1999, though the AFP presence is heavily outnumbered by China's coast guard and maritime militia. 

The video appears to show the garrison's military personnel standing a security watch, carrying rifles in a lowered position. CGTN and its sister network CCTV released the imagery alongside a claim that the Philippine servicemembers had "pointed" firearms at Chinese personnel - a claim which did not appear to be supported by the low-resolution footage. The AFP has not commented on the Chinese media's claims. 

China has repeatedly attacked the supply convoys for the BRP Sierra Madre using less-than-lethal means, like shouldering, aggressive maneuvering, laser illumination and water-cannoning. Powerful water jets from China Coast Guard cutters have damaged at least four Philippine vessels and injured multiple Philippine personnel. 

Last week, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned that any Philippine fatality connected to China's deliberate actions at sea could be considered an act of war. He asserted that China's tactics in the South China Sea amount to "assertive actions that aim to propagate excessive, baseless claims through force, intimidation and deception."

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China's historically-based claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea was inconsistent with international law, and confirmed the validity of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, as defined geographically by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China has alternately ignored or denounced the ruling for the past eight years. 

"The rendered award is illegal, null and void. China neither accepts nor participates in that arbitration, neither accepts nor recognizes the award, and will never accept any claim or action arising from the award," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Monday.