China ‘forcefully retrieved’ floating object, says Philippines military
Manila, Nov 21 (EFE).- A Chinese coast guard ship “forcefully retrieved” an object being towed by a Philippine vessel in the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ armed forces denounced Monday.
The incident comes ahead of United States Vice President Kamala Harris’ Tuesday visit to the island of Palawan, the closest to the disputed archipelago.
On Sunday, the Philippines Navy crew secured an unidentified object drifting towards the Cay 1 sandbar of Pag-asa Island, which is occupied by the Philippines about 290 nautical miles west of Palawan, in the Spratlys and close to an island occupied by China.
As the Filipino crew was towing the object back to a naval station, a Chinese coast guard vessel approached and blocked the path twice, Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said in a statement sent to EFE.
The Chinese vessel then deployed an inflatable boat and “forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line” and took it to the coast guard boat, he added. The Philippines crew returned to Paga-asa.
Hours after the encounter, a series of blasts believed to be artillery guns or weapons on Chinese-occupied Zamora (Subi) Reef, a man-made island built by Beijing about 26 km away, was heard by residents on Pag-asa, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The explosions are being investigated by the armed forces, Philippine military sources told EFE.
The incident occurred two days before Kamala Harris’ visit to Palawan, where she plans to meet with coast guard officials, residents and local fishers, many of whom have for years denounced the Chinese occupation of islands near the Philippine coast where they used to fish.
Harris’ visit to Palawan, adjacent to the disputed Spratlys, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, and could raise tension in the region, according to experts. EFE