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In a game of cat and mouse, the Philippines resupplies its troops in an atoll in the South China Sea

By Jay Ereno

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Reuters) – The Philippines completed a resupply mission for troops stationed aboard a rusting World War II-era ship, but not without a usual cat-and-mouse race with Chinese ships in the South China Sea.

Reuters boarded one of the Philippine Coast Guard vessels escorting the mission to the Second Thomas Bank on Friday and witnessed how Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels attempted to pursue and prevent the Filipino contingent from reaching its destination.

China said the ships entered the waters without its permission.

During the mission, two Chinese ships blocked two Philippine Coast Guard vessels. In another case, a Philippine ship was surrounded by a Chinese coast guard ship and three maritime militia vessels.

One of the Chinese ships was also seen heading dangerously close to the Philippine ship Reuters was on board, while several Chinese militia vessels attempted to block its path.

“We are still facing dangerous maneuvers, observation activities, blockages not only from Chinese coast guard ships, but also from Chinese militia ships,” the guard commander said. Philippine coast, Emmanuel Dangate, to journalists after the mission.

“It is imperative that supplies be delivered to BRP Sierra Madre to support our Soldiers stationed there.”

The Philippines intentionally beached the warship in 1999 as part of its claim to sovereignty over the shoal, located inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese coast guard said Friday that two Philippine supply boats and two coast guard vessels entered the waters adjacent to the shoal without authorization from the Chinese government.

China says the Philippines is bringing construction materials that strengthen the rusting warship and violate China’s sovereignty over the shoal. The Philippines says it is providing water and food to its troops.

A U.S. Navy aircraft was also seen during Friday’s mission.

In a radio message to its Chinese counterpart, the Philippine Coast Guard warned that Chinese actions would affect relations between the two countries.

These actions are “illegal, aggressive and destabilizing,” he said.

This is the second successful resupply mission since August 5, when the Chinese coast guard used a water cannon to deter Philippine ships.

In 2016, the Philippines won an international arbitration award against China, with the tribunal invalidating Beijing’s broad claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have varying claims to certain areas.

(Reporting by Jay Ereño, Writing by Neil Jerome Morales, Editing by Clelia Oziel)


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