Philippines says China coast guard seized food dropped by plane for Filipino forces in disputed sea

The Philippine military chief says the Chinese coast guard seized one of four food packs dropped by a plane for Filipino navy personnel at a territorial outpost that has been surrounded by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea

Jim Gomez
Tuesday 04 June 2024 16:04 BST
Philippines-China-Disputed Shoal
Philippines-China-Disputed Shoal (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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The Philippine military chief on Tuesday said the Chinese coast guard seized one of four food packs dropped by a plane for Filipino navy personnel at a territorial outpost that has been surrounded by Chinese vessels in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Gen. Romeo Brawner said the Chinese personnel may have suspected the packages contained construction materials intended to reinforce a rusty Philippine navy ship ran aground at Second Thomas Shoal to serve as a Philippine outpost. After discovering the package contained food, they dumped the items, which included rice and biscuits, into the sea, Brawner said.

Chinese officials did not immediately comment on Brawner’s statement but they have repeatedly said the shoal, where the Philippine military deliberately grounded the navy ship in 1999, belonged to China and have demanded the ship be towed away. Operations to resupply Filipino forces at the grounded ship have led to skirmishes and collisions with Chinese coast guard ships that had damaged Philippine supply boats and injured several Filipino navy personnel.

The May 19 airdrops at Second Thomas Shoal by the Philippine military sparked a race by the Chinese coast guard and Philippine navy personnel aboard small motorboats to retrieve the four packages. The Filipinos managed to retrieve three of the floating packages and the Chinese grabbed one, Brawner told reporters in a news conference.

After the Chinese personnel dumped the food items, the Filipino sailors managed to retrieve some at sea but the rice had been soaked wet and could no longer be eaten, he said.

“This action of confiscating our supplies is illegal,” Brawner said. “They have no right to take our supplies, which are actually food items and some medicines.”

Video and pictures issued by the Philippine military showed at least four motorboats maneuvering dangerously close to each other as the occupants struggled to retrieve items floating at sea, including what appeared to be a white plate and food containers. The men could be heard in the video yelling at each other.

The Philippines says the shoal, which lies less than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from its coast, falls within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone and often cites a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea based on historical grounds.

The territorial disputes have strained relations and sparked fears the conflict could bring China and the United States, a longtime treaty ally of the Philippines, into a military confrontation. Washington lays no territorial claims to the busy seaway, a key global trade route, but has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack in the South China Sea.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a flashpoint in Asia and a delicate fault line in the longstanding U.S.-China rivalry in the region.

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