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CHINA ATTACKS PHL SHIPS AGAIN, CHIDED BY US, EU, UK, OTHERS; Experts predict ‘armed conflict’ next as Beijing readies 3rd aircraft carrier

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – As China beefs up its defense budget and military and readies a new aircraft carrier in what analysts claim as preparation for possible war, China Coast Guard ships attacked Philippine vessels again in West Philippine Sea  with water cannons destroying parts of one of two vessels.

The incident was promptly denounced by the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and several countries while the Philippines maintained its coolness while the biggest war drills in years of the Philippines and the United States called Balikatan 2024, participated also by Australia and France, with 14 country observers was ongoing in West Philippine Sea, from Palawan to Zambales, Ilocos Norte and Batanes near Taiwan.

The China Coast Guard ships fired water cannons at the Philippine vessels near Scarborough Shoal some 200 kilometers from Luzon and within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone on Tuesday as the Philippines heightens its assertiveness in the disputed waters.

Prompted by the incident, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro disclosed the Philippines is weighing a new approach in the region to counter China’s dangerous maneuvers.”

The Philippine Coast Guard said the Chinese attack occurred as one of its ships and a fisheries agency vessel carried out a “legitimate patrol.” 

Video supplied by the Philippine Coast Guard showed two larger Chinese vessels firing water cannons from opposite sides of the Philippine ship.

“The Philippine vessels encountered dangerous maneuvers and obstruction from four China Coast Guard vessels and six Chinese Maritime Militia vessels,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a statement.

He said the Philippine Coast Guard ship suffered “damage to the railing and canopy.” but no injuries were reported.

In another report, four China Coast Guard vessels and 6 maritime militia vessels had carried out the “dangerous maneuvers and obstruction” during a mission to resupply Filipino fishermen near Bajo de Masinloc,  Tarriela said. 

About 12 nautical miles from Bajo De Masinloc, the Chinese Coast Guard blasted water cannons at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel BRP Bankaw, Tarriela said . 

He said two Chinese ships also used water cannons on both sides of the PCG’s BRP Bagacay at about 100 yards from the shoal, “resulting in damage to the railing and canopy” of the Philippine vessel. 

Tarriela warned that the next China aggressiveness could be fatal to Filipinos.

While the water cannon attack by the China Coast Guard (CCG) was not the first time, its increasing aggressiveness against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has shown it could be “fatal,” Tarriela said.

“If you are going to look at how it bent the railing of the Philippine Coast Guard vessel because of the water, obviously that would be very fatal,”  Tarriela said.

The United States said the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 could be invoked for the US to act if the Chinese attacks would be fatal to any Filipino.

US President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that American support for the Philippines is “ironclad.”

Biden made the same assurance to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during a trilateral summit with Japan in the White House on April 12.

Despite the fresh incident, the Coast Guard official added, “We are not going to be deterred we are not going to yield despite all the harassment and provocative action.  Hindi kami mapipigilan ng China (China cannot deter us),” he added.

Meanwhile, the Chinese warships spotted during the maritime exercise of the naval forces of the Philippines, United States, and France in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) have violated the notice to mariners (NOTAM), a Balikatan official said.

Balikatan executive agent Colonel Michael Logico said a report on the incident will be sent to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) for possible diplomatic response.

“May na-violate sila syempre (Of course, they violated it),” Logico said when asked if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) violated NOTAM with their presence.

He said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) approved the NOTAM, which was requested by the Balikatan organizers to ensure safety during the conduct of the maritime activity including a gunnery exercise.

“That NOTAM is for their safety because we are also conducting gunnery exercises in the area. So for them to enter into our training area knowing fully well that we are conducting these types of activities, it was a big risk on their part for them to do that,” Logico said.

Chinese PLAN Navy vessels with bow numbers 167 and 793 were seen during the conduct of the exercises, according to Logico.

 Logico said the supposed live-fire event for the integrated air missile defense drill was scrapped.

“Instead of doing the live-fire, we will shifting to live-virtual constructed activity,” he said.

Logico attributed the change of plans to an “unforeseen logistical problem” that made the “live-fire a little problematic without going to specific details.”

The exercise was supposed to feature the Philippines’ SPYDER air defense missiles and its American equivalent, which would be one of the highlights of three-week “Balikatan” exercises set from April 22 to May 10.

Meanwhile, the PN’s landing dock BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602)  demonstrated its capabilities through the successful well-deck operations and amphibious landing exercises held in the vicinity of Campong Ulay Point, Rizal, Palawan.

These activities are part of the ongoing “Balikatan” exercise.

“Following a successful launch, LCU (landing craft unit) 1 and LCU 2 reached the designated beach landing site on 30 April 2024 around 0843H. Participating as the landing force and command group were the 9th Marine Battalion, the 3rd Naval Construction Battalion, and Marine Reservists assigned to Naval Reserve Center-West,” “Balikatan” Combined Information Bureau chief Lt. Col. John Paul Salgado said.

He added that this exercise showcased the Navy’s ability to effectively deploy troops and equipment from ship to shore, a critical skill for various maritime operations. 

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