South China Sea: Philippines resupplies Spratlys shoal troops

Filipino soldiers on BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea
Image caption,Troops on a Philippine outpost in the disputed South China Sea have received fresh supplies

The Philippines says it has delivered fresh supplies to a remote outpost it claims in the South China Sea.

Manila says Beijing’s attempts to “block, harass, and interfere with the supply mission” were unsuccessful.

Chinese ships fired water cannon at a Philippine supply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands two weeks before, stopping it from reaching the Filipino troops.

Manila enforces its claim using a decrepit navy ship with a few troops.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratlys, which is also claimed in part by the Philippines.

The sea is a rich fishing ground that is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.

Supply missions to the shoal have been a frequent source of friction between the two claimants.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea, where an estimated $3.37tn or 21% of global trade pass through every year.

South China Sea

Two ships carrying supplies, escorted by two coast guard ships, delivered fresh provisions to Second Thomas Shoal on 22 August, the Philippines’ National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

Manila refers to the portion of the South China Sea that is within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as the West Philippine Sea.

Supply missions to the shoal “will continue on a regular basis”, the task force said.

The US, the Philippines’ treaty ally, has expressed concern over what Manila has described as Beijing’s “dangerous manoeuvres” in the South China Sea.

Aside from water cannon, Chinese ships also allegedly shone “military grade lasers” to temporarily blind the crews of Philippine vessels.

China’s repeated attempts to block supply missions to Second Thomas Shoal formed part of the Philippines’ winning case before the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in 2014.

The tribunal ruled that China’s claim based on ancient maps is ill-founded. However, Beijing has refused to recognise the ruling and instead built artificial islands on disputed reefs.

After the supply mission in early August was blocked, China’s foreign ministry asked the Philippines to remove the ship on Second Thomas Shoal, claiming Manila had “repeatedly made clear promises to tow away the warship illegally ‘stranded’ on the reef”. It did not say who made the promise.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte, who served for six years until mid 2022, pivoted Manila’s alliances to China and Russia, straining ties with the nation’s long-standing ally, Washington.

However his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, restored security ties with the US and in early 2023 granted American troops wider access to Philippine military bases.

This angered China as a larger US presence in the Philippines provides the missing link to Washington’s arc of alliances in the region, stretching from South Korea and Japan to the north to Australia in the South.

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