Philippine Military Tells China's Coast Guard to "Behave"

A China Coast Guard vessel cuts across the bow of a Philippine Coast Guard cutter near Second Thomas Shoal (PCG)
A China Coast Guard vessel cuts across the bow of a Philippine Coast Guard cutter near Second Thomas Shoal (PCG)

Published Aug 20, 2023 11:29 PM by Paul Benecki

The Philippine military plans to make another attempt at sending a supply convoy to the BRP Sierra Madre, a deteriorating World War II-era LST that serves as an outpost on Second Thomas Shoal. China's coast guard and maritime militia partially blocked the last run, and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar has specific guidance for Chinese forces: "behave." 

"We have special message to the China Coast Guard for them to behave. They should not do any action that will endanger people’s lives," Aguilar said. "For all the consequences that the singular acts will cause, the blame will be on them and the authorities above them, so they should behave."

The resupply run to Second Thomas Shoal frequently ends in a standoff between the China Coast Guard and the Philippine Coast Guard, and the PCG often has to carry out its mission in the face of interdiction by larger and more numerous Chinese vessels. China claims ownership of the Spratly Islands and surrounding waters, including areas within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, like Second Thomas Shoal. 

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China's historically-based claims to the South China Sea are without merit under international law. China has ignored the ruling and has deployed "gray zone" forces - white-hulled coast guard cutters and militia-operated "commercial" fishing trawlers - to enforce its claims.

Earlier this month, two PCG patrol ships and two chartered supply boats attempted to reach the Philippine outpost on Second Thomas Shoal, but were intercepted by a larger Chinese task force. While the China Coast Guard harassed the PCG cutters, Chinese maritime militia trawlers blocked one of the supply boats and prevented it from completing its mission, according to the PCG. 

Philippine defense forces plan to return to the shoal soon and complete the mission. “As we continue to pursue this humanitarian undertaking and defend our rights in our maritime shoals, we also affirm our support for the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Aguilar said. "This exercise of our sovereign rights and jurisdiction is a testament to our firm belief in the rules-based international order that underpins regional peace and stability."

Meanwhile, the U.S., Japan and Australia happen to be planning a large joint naval drill off the western Philippines this coming week, AFP officials told Asahi Shimbun. Three helicopter carriers - USS America, JS Izumo and HMAS Canberra - will be under way in the area and carrying out exercises. The Philippine Navy will not be participating, but plans to join in future drills.