China expels Philippine naval gunboat trespassing near Huangyan
PLA involvement possible after escalated provocation by warship: experts
Published: Oct 10, 2023 08:44 PM
Vessels of the China Coast Guard conduct law enforcement exercises in an undisclosed area in Autumn 2022. Photo: Screenshot from WeChat account of China Coast Guard

Vessels of the China Coast Guard conduct law enforcement exercises in an undisclosed area in Autumn 2022. Photo: Screenshot from WeChat account of China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) expelled a gunboat of the Philippine Navy that intruded into waters off China's Huangyan Dao (also known as Huangyan Island) in the South China Sea on Tuesday.

The event, together with a recent military exercise featuring the Philippines and the US, marks a possible escalation of the continued tensions between China and the Philippines that have been rumbling on since August, as China could now send the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy reciprocally to counter if more Philippine warships trespass in the area, analysts said.

Disregarding repeated dissuasions and warnings from the Chinese side, a Philippine Navy gunboat insisted on intruding into the waters adjacent to China's Huangyan Island on Tuesday, Gan Yu, a spokesperson at the CCG, said in a press release on the day.

CCG vessels took necessary measures, such as tracking, pushing and navigation restrictions, to drive away the Philippine military vessel after multiple verbal warnings turned out to be ineffective, said Gan, who stressed that the on-site operations were professional, standardized, and lawful. 

China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island and its surrounding waters, as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant maritime areas, the CCG pokesperson said.

"The actions of the Philippine side violated China's sovereignty and seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations. We urge the Philippine side to immediately stop its infringement. The CCG will continue to carry out law enforcement activities to safeguard China's national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in China's jurisdictional waters," Gan said.

The latest trespass came after several similar attempts since August, as the Philippines repeatedly attempted to send building materials to China's Ren'ai Jiao (also known as Ren'ai Reef) to reinforce a Philippine warship illegally grounded there since 1999, and self-staged a show hyping China's setting up of a "floating barrier" to block a Philippine vessel's illegal access to Huangyan Island.

However, observers noted that the previous events featured Philippine coast guard and government vessels and were reciprocally dealt with by the CCG, but the latest event was prompted by a Philippine Navy warship.

By sending a naval gunboat, the Philippines is testing China's resolve and using the move as a chip to negotiate with China, Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

If the Philippines continues to provoke in this way, China's countermeasures may upgrade to a military level accordingly, Xu said.

Chinese military expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping said that China has countered the Philippines' provocations in a reciprocal manner, responding to coast guard vessels with coast guard vessels.

But if the Philippines sends warships and escalates the situation, China will also likely respond reciprocally, Song said.

Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines denied the Philippine Navy presence around Huangyan Island in a media interview on Tuesday, the Philippine News Agency reported.

The Philippines and the US are joining in the 12-day military exercise SAMASAMA being held from October 2 to Friday off Luzon, the Philippines, only about 340 kilometers away from Huangyan Island amid tensions in the South China Sea, prompting foreign media to say that the exercise is targeted at China.

Chinese experts warned that the US is only using the Philippines as a pawn to contain China and achieve its hegemonic goals, and a military escalation in the South China Sea will only backfire on the Philippines, which has no military force to rival the PLA, while the US will not fight for the Philippines' national interests.

Chen Xiangmiao, director of the world navy research center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that, coast guard ships or naval ships, both are intended to provoke China.

China outweighs the Philippines in terms of naval forces, thus it is impossible for Manila to form the courage for a direct contest with China without the support of Washington, Chen said.

Recent Philippine movements around Huangyan Island could be an attempt to divert China's attention from Ren'ai Reef, analysts said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Monday that the Philippines has recently taken a series of steps at Ren'ai Reef that seriously violate China's territorial sovereignty.

"China once again urges the Philippines to take seriously China's concerns, stop making provocations and creating troubles at sea, and stop groundless attacks and smears, so as to avoid undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea and harming the common interests of countries in the region. China will continue to, in accordance with our domestic laws and international law, do what is necessary to firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests," the spokesperson said.