During the military-style confrontation, China used civilian ships that surrounded three Philippine coast guard vessels, the South China Morning Post reported on Saturday.
On the details of the confrontation, the Hong Kong-based newspaper says:
- In the early hours of September 8, two Filipino boats and coast guard escorts sailed toward an abandoned World War II Philippine ship Thomas Scholl, stationed near the Spratly archipelago, which is disputed with China.
- This ship was used by the Philippines as a military base, where troops were stationed and refused a Chinese request to be moved from its position.
- Filipino boats pass through this area to deliver food, water and fuel to the troops on board.
- For Beijing, those forces illegally occupy Chinese territory.
- As Philippine ships approached the area that day, Chinese vessels tried to stop them, one of which was a coast guard, but the others appeared to be fishing.
- Four Chinese civilian steel-hulled ships sailed with the coast guard ship, taking turns to prevent two Philippine coast guard ships from approaching.
- Four other Chinese civilian ships were on standby, while three other Chinese coast guard vessels surrounded the Philippine boats.
- Video footage released by the Philippine Coast Guard showed that the two Chinese vessels approached meters from the hull of the Philippine ship PRB Capra.
- Manila said "dangerous maneuvers" by Chinese ships endangered the crew, and their presence in its exclusive economic zone was illegal, but the resupply mission was complete.
- China's neighbors worry that Beijing is pursuing its goals by blurring the lines between civilian and military forces, and using force such as firing water cannons.
- The incident is an example of how China is increasingly using civilian ships to assert its claims across the resource-rich sea.
Military expert Jamal al-Rifai commented to Sky News Arabia on this confrontation, describing the situation in the South China Sea as "very complicated" in light of the dispute between 5 countries over the ownership of the islands in it.
On the exact reason for the recent confrontation, and why Beijing is using non-military ships in its conflict over the islands, Rifai said:
- The Philippines has devised an idea to ensure that borders in the China Sea are not obliterated, placing a World War II ship in an area it says belongs to it with armed forces.
- China has repeatedly demanded that the Philippines withdraw the ship, but the latter ignored the matter and accused China of exaggerating matters, so China imposed a kind of blockade on the ship.
- Beijing's use of civilian ships and fishing boats to confront its enemies is part of a military game it is playing to deceive the international community.
- In 2014, Beijing signed an agreement defining security behavior in this sea, but it is limited to military forces and is not entrusted to civilian ships and coast guards.
- In order to show that it is not a country that violates its agreements, China has developed boats that resemble fishing boats, hired naval soldiers on them, and whose task is to intercept ships entering the areas it claims, in what the West has called "fishing militias."
According to Chinese affairs researcher Mazen Hassan, China was the first to set foot in the China Sea, and the first to discover the islands there, and thus treats it as its own.
On the possibility of tension with the Philippines reaching a clash, Hassan predicts that "it could happen as a result of a mistake on both sides," describing the situation as "very tense."
He stressed the need to "intervene quickly to resolve matters, instead of igniting this commercially important spot."
The sea, which is subject to more than $3 trillion in global trade, witnessed military exercises carried out by the Association of ASEAN (ASEAN), made up of 10 countries, including the Philippines, from Tuesday to Saturday, with the aim of showing unity to Beijing and deterring it from continuing to expand its waters and islands.