Manila, Nov 24 (EFE).- The Philippines’ foreign ministry on Thursday asked China’s government for an explanation on the recent, forceful seizure by the Chinese coast guard of an object being towed by a Philippine vessel in the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago in the South China Sea.
“The note seeks clarification from the Chinese side over the incident involving the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard in the vicinity of the waters of the Pag-asa Cays on 20 November 2022,” Philippine foreign ministry spokesperson Teresa Daza said in a brief statement sent to the media.
Daza added that the Philippines has sent another 189 diplomatic protests to Beijing so far this year over the incursion of Chinese ships in waters that Manila considers its own.
This latest incident occurred on Sunday when 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.
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, the Philippine navy said on Monday.
The embassy said that the Chinese coastguards retrieved the object after “friendly consultation” with the Philippine authorities and not by force.
However, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said on Tuesday that China’s explanations did not coincide with those provided by the Philippine Navy and that they would seek to resolve the matter.
China and the Philippines have a long-standing maritime dispute over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly Archipelago.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea.
The tensions between China and the Philippines coincided with the visit to the Philippines of United States Vice President Kamala Harris, who during her trip traveled to Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly Islands and some 220 kilometers away from some military bases built by China on those islets.
Marcos, who is trying to maintain a delicate balance between China and the US, will travel to the former country in January to meet President Xi Jinping to lower tensions between both countries over the territorial dispute.
Xi and Marcos already met for the first time last week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Bangkok.
During the meeting in Thailand, Xi said that China and the Philippines “should work together to (…) safeguard peace and stability in the region” and both leaders reaffirmed their support for the conclusion of a binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim parts of this strategic route, which carries 30 percent of global trade and is home to 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits. EFE