‘Close enough to see their faces’: Chased down by China in South China Sea

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In a tense encounter in the South China Sea, the Philippines Coast Guard faced off against Chinese vessels near Scarborough Shoal. The BBC was onboard the Filipino vessel BRP Bagacay and witnessed the dramatic confrontation unfold. Despite the risks, the Filipino crew remained determined to assert their country’s sovereignty and provide support to local fishermen.

As the two ships approached each other at high speed, tensions escalated. The Chinese crew filmed the encounter as both sides prepared for a potential collision. The Filipino captain maneuvered skillfully to avoid a crash, but the Chinese ships attempted to block their path. Despite the odds, the Filipino vessel managed to get within 600 meters of Scarborough Shoal before encountering a new barrier installed by the Chinese.

As the Filipino vessel approached the shoal, the Chinese ships unleashed powerful water cannons, damaging the ships and forcing the crew to seek shelter inside. The confrontation highlighted the growing tensions in the region, with both sides unwilling to back down.

Under President Bongbong Marcos, the Philippines Coast Guard has adopted a more assertive approach to challenge Chinese presence in disputed areas. The mission to Scarborough Shoal aimed to provide support to Filipino fishermen and assert the country’s claim to the area, despite Chinese objections.

The Scarborough Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as recognized by international law. However, China’s claims in the South China Sea, including the nine-dash line, have been disputed. A 2016 international court ruling deemed many of China’s activities in Philippine waters unlawful, but China has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

The Philippines Coast Guard faces significant challenges in countering Chinese dominance in the region. Despite receiving support from the United States, the Philippines remains outnumbered and outmatched by Chinese forces. The encounter with Chinese vessels underscores the asymmetry in power between the two nations.

President Marcos has received backing from US President Joe Biden and has implemented a modernization program for the armed forces. However, the Philippines’ efforts to assert its sovereignty are met with resistance from China, which continues to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Despite facing adversity, the Philippines Coast Guard views the mission to Scarborough Shoal as a success. The delivery of aid to local fishermen and the demonstration of resolve in the face of Chinese aggression reaffirm the Philippines’ commitment to defending its territorial integrity.

The confrontation between the Philippines Coast Guard and Chinese vessels near Scarborough Shoal highlights the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea. Despite facing formidable challenges, the Philippines remains steadfast in asserting its sovereignty and defending the rights of its fishermen. As the region continues to be a flashpoint for geopolitical disputes, the Philippines’ determination to uphold international law and protect its interests remains unwavering.

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