China-Philippines One Step Closer To Armed Conflict

(MENAFN- Asia Times) MANILA – Barely one month since China imposed new maritime regulations for the South China Sea and yet another major incident involving Philippine and Chinese maritime forces has erupted in the disputed waters.

Manila and Beijing have traded accusations following a collision on Monday (June 17) between their vessels over the Second Thomas Shoal, a feature which hosts a de facto Philippine naval outpost aboard the grounded BRP Sierra Madre vessel.

The Philippines' interagency task force overseeing the country's waters in the South China Sea, known by Manila as the“West Philippine Sea”, accused Chinese maritime forces of ramming and towing a Philippine resupply vessel en route to the disputed land feature.

Manila has claimed Philippine servicemen suffered“bodily injury” while Philippine vessels sustained damage, raising the possibility of an armed confrontation between the two neighbors.

“China's dangerous and reckless behavior in the West Philippine Sea shall be resisted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a spirited statement following the latest incident.“China's actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he added, underscoring a new nadir in bilateral relations.

For its part, China accused the Philippine resupply vessel of“deliberately and dangerously” approaching a Chinese ship, thus resulting in a moderate collision following the latter's“illegally intru[sion]” into Chinese-claimed waters – a charge that Manila has rejected as“deceptive and misleading” following months of intimidation and aggressive actions by Chinse maritime forces in the area.

What makes the tussle between the Philippines and China particularly alarming is the potential involvement of the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with Manila. Indeed, there are growing fears of multiple flashpoints across the disputed waters, which would only raise the prospect of armed confrontation and the potential for direct US military involvement.

In a public statement, the US State Department squarely blamed China for its latest“provocations” following half a dozen earlier collisions and incidents over the Second Thomas Shoal in the past year alone.


Asia Times

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