Turbulent Seas: China Coast Guard’s Aggressive Maneuvers Heighten Tensions in South China Sea

Escalation at Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal Raises Concerns Over Maritime Stability

China - Filipinas

In a notable escalation of tensions in the maritime domain, a China Coast Guard cutter engaged in forceful maneuvers against a Philippine supply boat on Sunday as it endeavored to navigate to Second Thomas Shoal—a site where the Philippine military maintains a strategic outpost. The incident unfolded as part of a broader series of aggressive actions by Chinese vessels over the weekend, signaling a heightened willingness on China’s part to escalate its recurring confrontations in the region.

According to Commodore Jay Tarriela, the spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the cutters BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan were dispatched to escort a supply convoy consisting of two wooden boats to Second Thomas Shoal, a routine operation that has been met with resistance from the China Coast Guard in the past. The convoy encountered opposition from Chinese cutter CCG 5204, a familiar presence in the region.

During the encounter, CCG 5204 deployed its water cannon in an attempt to deter the supply boat Kalavaan. The high-pressure water cannon inflicted severe damage to Kalavaan’s engines, rendering the vessel disabled. Subsequently, the cutter BRP Sindangan towed Kalavaan back to the safety of Ulugan Bay, Palawan.

Simultaneously, the smaller Chinese cutter CCG 21556 pursued the supply boat Unaizah Mae 1. In a close-quarters interaction, 21556 reportedly “rammed” Unaizah, with a Philippine video suggesting contact between the cutter’s reinforced port bow and Unaizah’s starboard quarter.

However, the China Coast Guard countered the Philippine account, asserting that Unaizah Mae 1 struck CCG 21556’s bow with her stern. The collision bears resemblance to a prior incident in October at Second Thomas Shoal when CCG 5203 made light contact with another Philippine vessel’s starboard quarter.

The confrontations underscore the longstanding tension between the China Coast Guard and the Philippine Coast Guard over the Spratly Islands, a region where China asserts ownership, including areas within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the aggressive actions, emphasizing Scarborough Shoal as sovereign Philippine territory and decrying the violations of international law. The incidents over the weekend mark just one of three menacing encounters between Philippine vessels and Chinese “gray zone” forces, further heightening concerns over the volatile situation in the contested waters.

The Philippines continues to assert its sovereignty, highlighting legal precedents such as the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which dismissed Chinese sovereignty claims over Philippine waters. The consistent pattern of China’s actions in the region raises questions about its commitment to peaceful dialogue and adherence to international legal norms, according to Commodore Tarriela. As the situation unfolds, the international community closely watches developments in the South China Sea, where strategic and geopolitical interests converge in a complex maritime landscape.

| |

Last news