The latest spat between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea has an unlikely object at its center: a World War II-era ship that’s now rusty after being stranded in contested waters for more than two decades.
(Bloomberg) — The latest spat between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea has an unlikely object at its center: a World War II-era ship that’s now rusty after being stranded in contested waters for more than two decades.
For the Philippines, the ship called BRP Sierra Madre is a commissioned naval vessel and is a “permanent” government installation within its territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has said the vessel was placed in Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 in response to China’s occupation of nearby Mischief Reef four years prior. It was installed three years before a South China Sea non-binding code of conduct was signed between Beijing and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2002.
China, however, has repeatedly urged the Philippines to tow away the military vessel that was “illegally” and “deliberately” ran aground at the shoal. Beijing also considers the shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao, as part of its territory.
Beijing has continued to assert its expansive claims and build on features in the South China Sea, even after a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal saying there’s no evidence that China has historically exercised exclusive control in the waters. China called the arbitration “pure political drama staged in the name of the law with the US pulling strings behind the scenes,” according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
On August 5, Chinese and Philippine vessels had another tense encounter in the disputed sea, with Manila accusing Beijing of using water cannons and blocking a resupply mission to soldiers manning the stranded ship. China said its actions were justified as the Philippines was supposedly bringing construction materials to the vessel.
The US State Department said China has “undertaken unwarranted interference in lawful Philippine maritime operations” with what it said were “dangerous actions” by its Coast Guard.
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