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PRC Again Attacks Philippine Vessels in South China Sea

On December 9, ships under the flag of the People’s Republic of China attacked official Philippine vessels with water cannon, harassed them by engaging in reckless, dangerous maneuvers and even rammed one of the Philippine ships, all well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. In addition, the PRC’s ships used acoustic devices, incapacitating the Filipino crew members, and drove away Philippine fishing vessels. 

The Philippine vessels were part of a convoy on its way to re-supply troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, a warship grounded at Second Thomas Shoal. This submerged reef is within the Spratly Island group, in the South China Sea. 

Since 1946, the PRC has made poorly justified claims to the vast majority of the South China sea, including to swathes of the Exclusive Economic Zones of its neighbors. Included within the disputed area are numerous uninhabited islands, shoals, and submerged features, as well as large oil and natural gas deposits and rich fishing waters. This is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Over the past decade or so, the PRC has aggressively enforced its assertions of ownership of this maritime region. This, despite the legally binding ruling of an international tribunal in 2016 that found the PRC has no lawful claim to most of the region, including the area around Second Thomas Shoal.

“By impeding the safe operations of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation,” said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller in a written statement. “Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability.”

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of these dangerous and unlawful actions,” said Spokesperson Miller. “We reaffirm that Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.”