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China fires water cannons at Philippine ships in South China Sea – UPI.com

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Chinese vessels fired water cannons at Philippine coast guard ships, damaging one, in the disputed waters of the South China Sea near the Scarborough Shoal, a Philippine coast guard official said Tuesday. Screenshot: Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela/X

April 30 (UPI) — Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons and drove Philippine vessels away from a contested area of the South China Sea, a Philippine coast guard official said Tuesday, in the countries’ latest encounter in waters near the Scarborough Shoal.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a statement posted on X that the incident occurred Monday morning when two Philippine maritime patrol vessels encountered four Chinese coast guard and six Chinese maritime militia vessels in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal, which the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc, is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks roughly 120 nautical miles west of the Philippine coast that has been blockaded and claimed by China since a 2012 standoff.

Tarriela said that one Chinese ship fired its water cannon at the Philippine ships about 12 nautical miles away from the shoal, hitting one. The other was struck by water cannons from two Chinese ships when it was around 1,000 yards from the shoal and suffered railing and canopy damage.

“This damage serves as evidence of the forceful water pressure used by the China Coast Guard in their harassment of the Philippine vessels,” Tarriela wrote.

He added that China “has once again installed a 380-meter [1,250-foot] floating barrier that covers the entire entrance of the shoal, effectively restricting access to the area.”

Last year, the Philippines removed a floating Chinese barrier at Scarborough Shoal that was blocking its vessels from reaching the traditional fishing ground.

The Chinese coast guard on Tuesday said it expelled two Philippine vessels that had “illegally intruded” in waters off of Huangyan Island, China’s name for the shoal.

The Scarborough Shoal falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, which the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea says extends 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast.

China, however, claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, a contention that an international tribune in The Hague rejected in 2016. The two sides have had several maritime encounters in recent months, including a collision caused by Chinese vessels at the Second Thomas Shoal in March.

The latest incident comes as the United States and the Philippines hold a large-scale joint military exercise that includes live-fire missile launches and a boat-sinking drill in the South China Sea.

The annual Balikatan exercise has sparked an angry response from Beijing, which claims it will only increase tensions in the region.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has looked to move closer to Washington since taking power in 2022 after his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte hobbled the alliance in an effort to strengthen ties with Beijing.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the countries’ first-ever trilateral summit, at which he said Washington’s commitment to the Philippines remains “ironclad” amid China’s assertion of power in the South China Sea.

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