BEIJING/MANILA — China has condemned a mission by four Philippine ships to resupply Filipino troops in Ayungin Shoal, claiming the vessels had entered its waters in the Spratly Islands without its permission.
The Philippines said on Wednesday it had successfully sent supplies to its troops stationed BRP Sierra Madre, a World War Two-era transport ship-turned-military outpost on the atoll despite attempts by China’s coast guard to block it.
While China is in dispute with several of its neighbors over its extensive claims in the South China Sea, its relations with the Philippines have been particularly fraught recently over the issue, especially since Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. took over as Philippine president last year.
“Philippine supply ships and two coast guard ships entered the waters … in China’s Nansha Islands without permission from the Chinese government,” China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said a post on its website, using China’s name for the Spratly Islands.
The atoll in the area is known as Ayungin in the Philippines, while China calls it the Renai Reef. Also known as the Second Thomas Shoal, it is 105 miles (109 km) off the Philippine island of Palawan.
A small number of Philippine troops live on board the old navy transport ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which the Philippines grounded on the shoal in 1999 to reinforce its sovereignty claim.
China Coast Guard said in its post that it issued stern warnings and added it firmly opposed the illegal Philippe transport of materials to the ship that “sits on the beach” illegally.
The Philippines last completed a resupply mission to the grounded ship on Sept. 8. A month earlier, a China Coast Guard vessel fired water cannon at a Philippine supply boat during a similar attempt, drawing condemnation from the Philippines and old ally the United States.
China has told the Philippines to tow the vessel away but Manila has rejected the demand.
The Philippine National Security Council (NSC) said its resupply and rotation mission was completed despite attempts by a significant number of China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia to “harass and interfere” with it.
“These missions are a legitimate exercise of the administrative functions of the Philippine government,” the NSC said.
On Wednesday, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said a Chinese vessel again maneuvered dangerously against Philippine vessels on their way to Ayungin Shoal for this month’s resupply mission.
“Dangerous maneuvers once again in today’s resupply mission,” Zubiri told reporters as he shared videos from the Philippine Coast Guard showing the incident.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), former US Air Force official and former Defense Attache Ray Powell said that a total of 12 Chinese militia ships were deployed supposedly to enforce the “blockade” of the resupply mission in the Ayungin Shoal.
PCG’s BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan were the ones escorting the resupply boats past Sabina Shoal, he said.
The Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz, meanwhile, was positioned to the south for support. Powell said a China Coast Guard ship was shadowing PCG, with two more present around the area.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, pointing to a line on its maps that cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said that the line on China’s maps had no legal basis. China, meanwhile, has refused to recognize the decision. — Reuters with RSJ, GMA Integrated News