The Philippines and China are once again entangled in a maritime dispute, with tensions rising in the contested South China Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has accused Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships of using water cannons and engaging in "dangerous manoeuvres" against PCG vessels near the Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, in the Spratly Islands chain.
The incident occurred as the PCG was escorting supply ships to military troops stationed in the region.
China's Response and Territorial Claims
China, in response, accused the Philippines of trespassing in its waters adjacent to Renai Reef in the Nansha Islands.
The CCG claims that it implemented necessary controls in accordance with the law to prevent the entry of Philippine vessels carrying "illegal construction materials" and asserted its territorial claim over the area.
International Support for the Philippines
Amid the escalating tensions, the US State Department has voiced its support for the Philippines. It called on China to respect the freedom of navigation and declared that China has "no lawful claim" to the maritime area around Second Thomas Shoal. The Spratly Islands, including Second Thomas Shoal, are subject to overlapping territorial claims by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
A Long-Standing Dispute
The territorial dispute in the South China Sea has been a long-standing issue, with Beijing claiming sovereignty over nearly the entire region.
However, the Philippines refers to the area as the West Philippine Sea and has taken steps to enforce its claim, such as intentionally grounding the navy transport ship BRP Sierra Madre on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999, which is manned by Filipino marines.
Fisheries Disputes and Regional Tensions
The recent incident involving water cannons is not an isolated event. Philippine maritime authorities have also accused Chinese vessels of harassing Filipino fishers in the area, adding to the complexities of the maritime dispute and further fueling regional tensions.