MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese Coast Guard ship had blocked the path of three Philippine civilian vessels on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
This was revealed in a document submitted September 13 by the Department of National Defense (DND) to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who earlier requested for a report on the Philippine military’s modernization plans as well as Chinese incursions in Philippine waters.
The incident, which involved Chinese Coast Guard ship with bow number 3305, took place last May 14, according to DND’s report written by Usec. Cardozo Luna.
The ship, it added, was as close as 1,600 yards to the Philippine vessels.
This encounter happened almost a month before the June 9 incident near Recto (Reed) Bank, where a Chinese vessel rammed and sank an anchored Filipino fishing boat and abandoned the distressed crew in the open water.
In May last year, the Chinese navy harassed a Philippine Navy vessel on a re-provisioning mission in Ayungin Shoal.
Luna said that China regularly deploys at least one coast guard vessel near the shoal to monitor activities including the arrival of Filipino fishing boats and the resupply mission for the troops stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, a transport ship intentionally grounded to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Navy.
The Western Command also publicly reported the presence of a Chinese coast guard ship in Ayungin Shoal in August, but said it did not interfere with their operations.
Ayungin Shoal is around 20 nautical miles from Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, one of the features occupied by China in the Kalayaan Island Group that it transformed into military outposts.
China to persist using militias
Chinese fishing vessels believed to be part of its maritime militia are also a common sight in the West Philippine Sea, Luna said in his report.
In the first semester of 2019, a total of 322 Chinese militia vessels with different bow numbers were monitored, of which 300 were sighted in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island alone, he said.
The Philippines this year had filed several diplomatic protests on the sustained presence of these Chinese vessels.
DND believes China is likely to continue using its maritime militia to gain advantage in the West Philippine Sea without provoking a conventional military response.
Despite warming relations between the Philippines and China under President Rodrigo Duterte, it appears that Beijing has no plans to pull out its maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea permanently.
“There is high possibility that Beijing will continue the employment of these vessels, which could be used for asymmetric warfare of sea control and sea denial, such as swarming tactic and ramming of other claimants’ vessels in the area, enabling it to make advancements in the maritime region without causing tension in the area,” Luna said.
He said China has been using its fishing vessels to discreetly conduct surveillance, search and rescue operations and provide assistance to law enforcement agencies.
Analysts say these vessels are used by China to intimidate South China Sea claimants, to prevent them from accessing resources and energy reserves.
The DND report also noted the “emerging trend” of Chinese warships navigating through the Sulu-Celebes Sea area, particularly in Balabac Strait and Sibutu Passage.
It also identified 15 Chinese research vessels monitored in Philippine waters for this year.
Meanwhile, in the northern Philippines, ships of the Taiwan Coast Guard were “persistently monitored” east of Batanes Islands.
DND believes they are providing protection for their fishermen or maintaining its presence in response to the fishermen’s shelter built by the Philippines in Mavulis Island. /kga