Philippines continues to provoke with airdropping, fishermen trespass in South China Sea
Published: Jan 28, 2024 08:23 PM
China urges some Philippines ships to immediately cease its infringing actions on November 10, 2023. Two small Philippine transport ships and three Philippine Coast Guard ships illegally entered the area on that day without China's permission. Photo: Visual News

China urges some Philippines ships to immediately cease its infringing actions on November 10, 2023. Two small Philippine transport ships and three Philippine Coast Guard ships illegally entered the area on that day without China's permission. Photo: Visual News

Despite the recent easing of tensions in the South China Sea, the Philippines again provoked China by airdropping supplies to its illegally grounded warship on Ren'ai Jiao (also known as Ren'ai Reef) and sensationalizing Philippine fishermen's trespass on Huangyan Dao (also known as Huangyan Island), with experts saying on Sunday that these new methods of provocation increase the risk of triggering accidents, and the only way to resolve the dispute is through dialogue.

A small Philippine aircraft on January 21 airdropped supplies to the Philippine warship, which remains illegally grounded on China's Ren'ai Jiao, Gan Yu, a spokesperson at the China Coast Guard, said in a statement late on Saturday.

The CCG tracked, monitored and dealt with the situation in real time in accordance with the law and regulations, and made temporary special arrangements for the Philippine side's necessary living supplies, Gan said.

Demanding that the Philippines stop its provocations and hype, Gan said that the Philippine side disregards facts and hypes the situation to intentionally mislead the international community, and this approach is not conducive to easing tensions in the South China Sea.

The CCG will strengthen law enforcement at Ren'ai Jiao and its adjacent waters to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and maritime rights, the spokesperson said.

The airdropping incident came as the Philippines has not sent supply vessels to its illegally grounded warship for more than a month, and the two countries held a meeting on the South China Sea, which observers said marked an easing of tensions in the region.

Since August 2023, the Philippines has sent several groups of vessels trespassing into waters off Ren'ai Jiao to send building materials to reinforce its illegally grounded warship there in the name of humanitarian aid, attempting to permanently occupy the Chinese reef. 

Those Philippine moves were restricted by professional, legitimate and restrained measures by the CCG.

After the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command announced it had organized routine patrols and exercises in the South China Sea in early January amid a US-Philippine joint patrol in the region that was later scaled down by the US side, it has been more than a month since the Philippines sent vessels to Ren'ai Jiao last time.

The easing of the situation continued with the eighth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea held in Shanghai on January 17, when two sides agreed on improving the sea-related communication mechanism and handling maritime emergencies, especially the situation at Ren'ai Jiao.

With supply airdrop on January 21, tensions have again risen, which exposes the Philippines' lack of sincerity in improving the situation, experts said.

It is more complex to restrict the airdropping of supplies using aircraft compared with using vessels, because blocking aircraft is riskier and could lead to accidents, Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"It is not that China does not have the means to intercept Philippine aircraft, the question is that the risk of an accident will significantly increase," Chen said.

Another Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times that the Philippines wants to test China's resolve and determination with another trick.

While the CCG currently mainly operates helicopters used for patrols and search and rescue, which are not perfect options to block fixed wing aircraft, the PLA can send warplanes to intercept Philippine aircraft, the expert said, noting that this will further escalate tensions, but it is the Philippines that started the provocation first.

Another provocation by the Philippine side took place on January 12, when a group of Philippine fishermen trespassed into the reefs of China's Huangyan Dao to illegally catch seashells, a move that also damaged the ecological environment, including the coral reefs of the island, a source confirmed with the Global Times on Friday.

The CCG took necessary measures to stop these actions in accordance with the law, with its on-site operations being professional, reasonable and legitimate, the source said.

When former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte visited China in 2016, the two sides discussed fishery cooperation in the South China Sea, including bilateral cooperation on the fishing industry, and it was then that China agreed to make proper arrangements given its friendly relations with the Philippines.

The Chinese side opposes the Philippine side stirring up trouble and making provocations under the guise of fishery activities and taking advantage of China's goodwill to violate China's sovereignty and jurisdiction, the source said.

Dialogue important

China and the Philippines have already laid foundations to ease tensions in the South China Sea over the past month, and the Philippines should not waste this opportunity to meet China halfway in resolving the disputes through dialogue, analysts said.

Citing the recent China-Philippines meeting as well as the recent improvements in China-US ties, Chen said that the environment has changed compared with last year, and dialogue should become the main focus.

While the US' scheme to use the Philippines to contain China will not stop, it does not want to see itself to be dragged into a conflict in the South China Sea, Chen said.

On the particular issue of supply airdrops, experts said that China always maintains an open mind about making temporary special arrangements for the Philippines' humanitarian supplies to its illegally grounded warship on Ren'ai Jiao, as long as the Philippine side notifies the Chinese side in advance, does not send building materials, and has the Chinese side verify the goods.

Eventually, the Philippines should keep its promise and tow away the illegally grounded warship, experts said, noting that when it comes to fishing activities around Huangyan Dao, if the two countries resume friendly relations, normal fishery cooperation could also resume.

The main mechanism to achieve a resolution to these issues should be based on talks and dialogues, observers said.