Report: China Backs Down From Standoff at Second Thomas Shoal

china coast guard
USCG file image

Published Nov 21, 2021 9:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

China's government has backed down from a standoff with Philippine forces at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, according to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. 

Last week, three China Coast Guard patrol vessels used water cannon to turn back a convoy of Philippine supply boats at Second Thomas Shoal. The boats were headed to bring food and other supplies to the small Philippine garrison on the shoal, which is claimed by both nations but has been occupied by Philippine forces since 1999. 

Lorenzana announced Sunday that the supply boats will be going back, and China has agreed not to interfere  He told reporters that he has been in constant contact with China's ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian, and has received assurances that there will be no interference from Chinese forces this time. 

Last week, China's foreign ministry sent a different message: It claimed that the Philippine supply boats "trespassed . . . without China's consent," and that the China Coast Guard "performed official duties in accordance with law and upheld China's territorial sovereignty." 

However, since last week, Chinese forces appear to have begun to stand down their presence at at Second Thomas Shoal. One China Coast Guard vessel and 19 maritime militia vessels have departed the scene, according to Reuters. 

"We will see if they are true to their words, as our navy will proceed with the resupply this week," Lorenzana told GMA News. "They have no right to impede, prevent or harass our ships within our EEZ." 

The U.S. has a long-running defense agreement with the Philippines and a regular naval presence in the Spratly Islands. After the run-in at Second Thomas Shoal, a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson noted that "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 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 maintain a symbolic presence on the island in order to prevent Chinese encroachment.