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Resupply mission a success

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PH vessels reach Ayungin, China envoy cites ‘special arrangement’

OPPOSITE SHIP’S VIEW. This photo by the China Coast Guard distributed to Chinese news outlets and posted on Twitter/X on Tuesday shows the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Malabrigo en route to the Ayungin Shoal on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre. In a statement, the CCG said it ‘tracked and monitored’ two Philippine supply vessels and two coast guard ships which ‘entered waters near the Ren’ai Reef of China’s Nansha Islands without the permission of the Chinese government.’

A resupply mission reached the BRP Sierra Madre Tuesday, bringing food and other supplies to the Marines stationed in Ayungin Shoal, despite attempts by Chinese vessels to block the boats carrying provisions.

Two Philippine Coast Guard boats escorted two supply vessels to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where a handful of troops are stationed on the crumbling navy ship.

They arrived just over two weeks after China Coast Guard ships blocked and fired water cannon at a resupply mission to the tiny garrison that prevented one of the boats from delivering its cargo.

“The routine follow-on Rotation and Resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre was successfully conducted today,” the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

The task force accused China Coast Guard and “Chinese Maritime Militia” vessels of attempting to “block, harass, and interfere” with the mission.

“Routine missions to Philippine outposts on various features in the West Philippine Sea will continue on a regular basis,” it added.

The task force said Philippine Navy vessels were also on standby during the resupply mission.

“These missions are part of the Philippine government’s legitimate exercise of its administrative functions over the WPS, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2016 Arbitral Award, and domestic laws,” the NTF-WPS said.

Earlier, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the country has the right to repair and develop the BRP Sierra Madre if needed, reacting to Chinese claims that Filipino supply ships were carrying construction supplies to upgrade or repair the navy ship.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the Chinese Coast Guard issued a statement, saying that it had warned, monitored, and restricted Philippine vessels “when they trespassed waters near Ren’ai Reef of China’s Nansha Islands on Tuesday. Given the Philippine vessels did not carry large building materials for fortification, a temporary special arrangement was made for the Philippine side to transport necessary living materials including food to its ‘grounded’ warship.”

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, speaking at an event in Manila, repeated the CCG item almost to the word, then told journalists that as far as the delivery of supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, China has no issue with it “for humanitarian reasons.”

“There has never been and has not been an issue with the delivery of supply because as I said there is a special arrangement for this,” Huang said in an ambush interview.

But the envoy renewed his call for Manila to talk with Beijing to peacefully settle their territorial maritime dispute over the South China Sea, particularly several areas in the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratlys, including Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded the World War II-era BRP Sierra Madre atop the shoal in 1999 to check China’s advance in the waters.

The troops stationed on the rusty ship depend on regular deliveries for their survival.

Ayungin Shoal is about 200 kilometers from Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

The water cannoning on Aug. 5 fanned tensions between the countries, which have a long history of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

It deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs.

Its coast guard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.

Beijing has defended its actions in the August 5 incident—condemned by a number of countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia, and the European Union–and accused Manila of “illegal delivery of construction materials” to the grounded ship.

The Philippines, citing the 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, says Ayungin Shoal is within its exclusive economic zone, and therefore its efforts to resupply troops and repair the BRP Sierra Madre are legitimate.

National Security Adviser, Secretary Eduardo Año, who heads the NTF-WPS, commended the bravery and determination of the Filipino sailors exercising the right of the Philippines over its territory.

“The Filipino people owe them a debt of gratitude, for their commitment to place their lives on the line daily to defend our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction throughout the expanse of the WPS. “ the NTS-WPS said.

Earlier, Duan Dang, a freelance journalist and South China Sea watcher, said China had sent two of its vessels to intercept the Filipino boats.

“As expected, 2 high-speed CCG vessels, 21551 and 21556, deployed to Second Thomas Shoal in an attempt to block Philippine supply ships,” Dang said in his social media post.

A former US Air Force official and a security analyst, on the other hand, said China deployed four militia ships from Mischief Reef to take up blockade positions during the resupply.

Former US Air Force official and ex-defense attaché Ray Powell said the Philippine mission was escorted by Philippine Coast Guard vessels BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan.

Powell also said China has deployed all of its 11 AIS-visible Qiong Sansha Yu militia ships starting Monday afternoon.

On Monday, he said a Chinese coast guard ship was spotted at Mischief Reef and was expected to block a new resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The AFP said it has received a similar report and said soldiers were prepared should there be a repeat of the water cannon incident on Aug. 5.

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