Exclusive: Video footage shows Philippines secretly reinforcing illegally grounded vessel in Ren’ai Jiao
Published: Jun 21, 2024 11:17 PM Updated: Jun 22, 2024 12:15 AM
China Coast Guard law enforcement personnel board and inspect a Philippine supply boat in waters off China's Ren'ai Jiao in the South China Sea on June 17, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of China Coast Guard

China Coast Guard law enforcement personnel board and inspect a Philippine supply boat in waters off China's Ren'ai Jiao in the South China Sea on June 17, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of China Coast Guard

The recent revelation that the Philippines secretly transferred materials to reinforce the dilapidated military vessel illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao underscores the root cause of the current tense situation in the South China Sea - the Philippines' ongoing provocations with US support. Analysts said that the law enforcement measures taken by the China Coast Guard to safeguard China's national interests are legitimate and justified.

Multiple pieces of video footage obtained exclusively by the Global Times also showed that aside from dispatching military personnel, the Philippines arranged for so-called "fishermen" to transport construction materials to reinforce the military vessel illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao, and Philippine military personnel openly conducted reinforcement work on the "grounded" warship during the daytime.

In a report released on Thursday, the Financial Times cited six people as saying that the Philippines "has reinforced" the illegally grounded military vessel at Ren'ai Jiao to "extend its life." The report also noted that "the US Indo-Pacific Command last year proposed sending army engineers to bolster the ship." 

China has criticized the Philippines for dispatching vessels to send construction materials to the dilapidated vessel, which has been illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao in the Nansha Qundao for over 20 years, while the Philippines claimed its missions are sending "humanitarian supplies" to the site. 

The Global Times has learned from sources that out of humanitarian concerns, after notifying China in advance, the Philippines was allowed to transport essential humanitarian supplies such as food and water to the illegally grounded warship at Ren'ai Jiao. 

However, since February 2023, the Philippine government has disregarded China's goodwill and ignored the "gentleman's agreement" reached between the two countries during the Duterte administration, and people claiming to be "fishermen" secretly transported large quantities of construction materials to the illegally grounded warship, aiming to repair and reinforce it to turn it into a permanent facility. 

Video footage taken around the Ren'ai Jiao recently and obtained by the Global Times showed that in addition to openly dispatching large transport ships to participate in illegal resupply activities, the Philippines has also repeatedly sent so-called "fishermen" on multi-functional fishing boats to the illegally grounded warship, transporting construction materials.

These so-called "fishermen" operated at dusk and dawn, attempting to evade surveillance by China Coast Guard (CCG) during the night, while transporting and hoisting large building materials to the illegally grounded warship. Meanwhile, Philippine military personnel conducted welding and reinforcement work on the illegally grounded warship during the daytime.

These "fishermen" are highly organized in their illegal transporting and resupply activities, and they are experienced and well-trained, employing strategies such as placing fish catches on their boats to disguise their operations as fishing activities. 

They also conducted high-speed operations in the lagoon of Ren'ai Jiao during the late hours, using reflective materials to obstruct nighttime monitoring by CCG. However, these actions cannot evade the comprehensive law enforcement and evidence gathering efforts of CCG throughout the day and night.

The relevant reports once again confirm that the Philippines' claim of transporting only living supplies to its illegally grounded warship at Ren'ai Jiao is completely false, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a press conference on Friday. 

As China has pointed out multiple times, the Philippines has been sending construction materials, and even weapons and ammunition, to the illegally grounded military vessel in order to repair and reinforce it on a large scale so that it can permanently occupy Ren'ai Jiao. The Philippines' moves seriously violate China's sovereignty. China absolutely rejects them and will resolutely respond in accordance with laws and regulations, Lin said. 

Lin also emphasized that what led to the current situation at Ren'ai Jiao is very clear - the root cause is that the Philippines breached its commitments, refused to tow away the warship illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao for 25 years and kept sending it construction materials to reinforce the warship.

This warship stands as solid evidence of the Philippines' persistent provocations and infringement against China in the South China Sea over the decades, its bad faith and breach of the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and its damage to the eco-environment in the South China Sea, Lin said.   

"We urge the Philippines to stop making provocations and infringing on China's sovereignty at once, and return to the right track of properly managing disputes through dialogue and consultation as soon as possible. China is firmly determined to defend its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests," said the spokesperson.  

The falsehoods perpetrated by the Philippines on the South China Sea have been exposed in the face of facts. Since the grounding of its warship on Ren'ai Jiao, the Philippines has consistently transported construction materials to the reef through various means with the aim of permanently occupying it and developing it into a military outpost, Ding Duo, a deputy director of the Institute of Maritime Law and Policy at the China Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Friday. 

These developments also highlight the justification for China's strict law enforcement. In the face of the Philippines' provocations, CCG's rigorous enforcement not only defends national sovereignty and territorial integrity but also makes a significant contribution to safeguarding international law and regional peace and stability, said Ding. 

The China Coast Guard on Monday took control measures in accordance with the law, including issuing warnings, intercepting, boarding and conducting inspections, when three Philippine vessels illegally entered the waters off Ren'ai Jiao. The incident was the Philippines' latest provocation as the situation has become more strained in the South China Sea in recent months.

Ding said that the root cause for this round of tensions in the South China Sea is the Philippines' continuous provocation with the support of the US. The support and incitement from the US and certain other Western countries have emboldened the Philippines to act more provocatively on the issue of Ren'ai Jiao. 

During his call with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the US' "ironclad" commitments to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the US State Department said.

The Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines, whether interpreted in the 1950s or the 1970s, has consistently been domestically understood in the US to apply strictly within Philippine territory. Despite occasional US threats of using the treaty as leverage, engaging in legal proceedings would require both time and a thorough interpretation of the treaty, which means the US is unlikely to enter into a large-scale conflict with China over islands or reefs in the South China Sea for the Philippines, said Ding. 

While the US may articulate its commitments, in practice, it often relies more on rhetoric and threats to bolster the Philippines. The commitments from the US that the Philippines often cites are likely just hollow promises, said Ding. 

Analysts also noted that the Philippines' ongoing collusion with external countries in the South China Sea, including joint patrols and military exercises, heightens maritime risks and could lead to increased unpredictability and incidents at sea. 

If the Philippines continues its provocations, more serious incidents could arise in the future. Analysts warn that the Philippines may ultimately bear the consequences of destabilizing the region.