DND: Chinese Coast Guard blocked 3 PH ships in Ayungin Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 19) — A Chinese Coast Guard ship had blocked three Philippine civilian vessels in Ayungin Shoal, known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal, the Department of National Defense (DND) said.

In a report to Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, the DND said a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ship with bow number 3305 blocked last May three Philippine vessels that were on their way to replenish the supply of personnel onboard the BRP Sierra Madre.

BRP Sierra Madre is used as a garrison of soldiers guarding Ayungin Shoal, which lies 105 nautical miles from Palawan, is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and is part of the country’s continental shelf.

The DND has monitored China to be regularly deploying at least one Coast Guard ship to Ayungin Shoal. They are perceived to be monitoring Philippine activities in the area.

Despite a 2016 arbitral ruling by an international tribunal backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidating China’s sweeping claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, it still claims Ayungin — which the Chinese call Ren'ai Jiao.

US-based think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has previously reported that the CCG is ramping up efforts against Malaysian and Vietnamese ships that service other vessels in oil blocks in the South China Sea.

Days after the report came out, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said Beijing would be the last to impede freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

More Chinese ships

The DND has monitored hundreds of Chinese ships in Philippine waters from January to August 2019, including 25 vessels of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

It also acknowledged that there is an “emerging trend” of Chinese warships passing through the Sulu-Celebes Sea. From February to August, the DND has monitored six warships passing through Balabac Strait and Sibutu Strait.

READ: Lorenzana: PH uninformed of Chinese warships passing through Sibutu Strait

The military has previously reported that some of these warships turned off their automatic identification systems and ignored warnings

The DND also reported seeing 15 Chinese research vessels enter Philippine waters since the beginning of the year, while they have spotted 322 Chinese fishing vessels in the first half of the year.

The Foreign Affairs had already protested the presence of these ships in Philippine waters.

The DND also said that China has regularly deployed CCG ships in Bajo de Masinloc and Pag-asa Island.

Chinese militia?

The DND acknowledged that the hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels, mostly spotted near the Philippines-occupied Pag-asa Island, are allegedly part of Beijing’s maritime militia, which maritime experts have said the Asian giant uses to assert its dominance in the South China Sea without escalating it into military conflict.

“There is high possibility that Beijing will continue the employment of these vessels, which could be used for asymmetric warfare of sea control and sea denial, such as swarming tactics and ramming of other claimants’ vessels in the area, enabling it to make advancements in the maritime region without causing tension in the area,” the DND said.

It added that it ships part of this alleged maritime militia are “apparently” being used to “discreetly conduct surveillance, search and rescue operations as well as provide assistance to law enforcement agencies.”

The DND monitored 560 foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea last year, with 434 of them being Chinese vessels. Most of these were Chinese fishing vessels.

The Philippines had warned foreign vessels that they should get proper clearance to pass through the country’s territorial waters, or else they will be asked to leave.

However, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines cannot do this as it would be violating the rights of ships to innocent passage.