The Chinese Coast Guard forcibly seized the suspected wreckage of a Chinese missile that the Philippine Navy was ferrying to its island in South China SeaPhilippine military officials said, in the latest confrontation in the disputed sea.
Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said on Monday that the Chinese ship twice blocked the Philippine naval boat before catching the floating wreck it was docking Sunday off the Philippine-occupied island of Thito. He said that no one was hurt in the accident.
Chinese coast guard vessels have blocked Filipino supply boats carrying supplies to Philippine forces in disputed waters in the past, but seizing items in the possession of another country’s military was an even bolder act.
The incident comes a day before the scheduled visit of the US Vice President. Kamala Harris, to the western province of Palawan, facing the South China Sea. In a meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Monday, Harris hailed the long and enduring relationship between the two countries and promised that the American commitment is “unwavering.”
The aim of her visit is to emphasize American support for Filipino and renewing the United States’ commitment to defending Philippine forces, ships, and aircraft if they are attacked in disputed waters.
Monday’s incident is the latest escalation in the long-running territorial disputes in the strategic waterway ChinaPhilippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Carlos said that Filipino sailors, using a long-range camera on Thito Island, spotted the wreckage drifting in strong waves near a sandbar just over 500 meters away. They set off in a boat, retrieve the floating object, and begin towing it to their island, using a rope attached to their boat.
As the Filipino sailors were returning to their island, Carlos said in a statement, “they noticed a Chinese Coast Guard vessel with bow number 5203 was approaching their position and subsequently blocked their previously planned course twice.”
The Chinese ship then deployed an inflatable boat with personnel who “forcibly retrieved said floating object by cutting the towline attached to the rubber boat” of the Filipino sailors. Carlos said that the Filipino sailors decided to return to their island, without giving details of what happened.
The floating metal object appears similar to a number of other pieces of Chinese missile debris that were recently found in Philippine waters, said Maj. Sherrill Tindog, a spokesman for the Philippine military’s Western Command. She added that the Filipino sailors did not resist the Nuba.
“We exercise maximum tolerance in such a situation,” Tindog said. “Since it involved something unknown and not a matter of life and death, our team decided to just go back.”
Metallic debris from Chinese missile launches, some showing part of what appears to be a Chinese flag, has been found in Philippine waters on at least three other occasions.
Rockets launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on China’s Hainan Island in recent months have carried building materials and supplies for China’s manned space station.
China has been criticized in the past for Allowing the missile stages to fall to the ground without control. NASA accused Beijing last year of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding space debris” after parts from a Chinese rocket fell in the Indian Ocean, and the Philippine Space Agency earlier this month pressed the Philippines to ratify UN treaties that provide a basis for compensation. For damage from space debris to other nations.
The Philippine government has made several diplomatic protests against China over aggressive actions in the South China Sea, but did not immediately specify what action it would take after Sunday’s incident. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Manila usually waits for an official investigation report before filing a protest.
Theto Island, which the Filipinos call Bagh Asa, hosts the Filipino fishing community and troops and is located near Sopi, one of seven disputed reefs in the marine area that China has turned into missile-protected islandsincluding three with runways, which US security officials say now resemble forward military bases.
The Philippines and other smaller countries in the disputed region, backed by the United States and other Western nations, have protested vehemently and raised concerns about China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the crowded waterway.
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