KEY POINTS

  • The Philippines said the warship had a Chinese flag and bow number 189
  • The coast guard ship followed the warship to ensure it left Philippine waters
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the incident

The Philippines on Monday claimed its Coast Guard drove away a Chinese warship that had intruded into its territorial waters. The Philippines has so far avoided a direct confrontation with Chinese forces despite multiple recent provocations by Beijing, and the incident is bound to raise temperatures in the disputed waters. 

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the incident occurred July 13, the fifth anniversary of the landmark international arbitral ruling that dismissed Beijing's claims over most of the disputed waterways. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea within the so-called the Nine-Dash Line.

A statement by the Philippine Coast Guard said that its vessel BRP Cabra was patrolling near Marie Louis Bank – about 147 nautical miles (87 kms) off the coast of El Nido town in Palawan province – when it spotted the Chinese ship, reports Bloomberg.

Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said the warship flew the flag of the People’s Republic of China and had markings in Chinese characters. 

"BRP Cabra calmly raised a radio challenge while monitoring the movement of the said ship using radar. The PCG vessel moved closer to see more clearly the activity of the Chinese Navy warship in our waters," he said. 

The statement said that the Chinese warship, bow number 189, maintained silence, forcing the Philippine Coast Guard ship to use a Long-Range Acoustic Device to broadcast audible notifications and warnings. Following this, the ship broke its silence and sent a radio message, "Philippine Coast Guard 4409, this is Chinese Navy warship 189. Please keep two nautical miles distance from me," the statement added. 

After that, the ship turned around to leave Marie Louise Bank. Balilo said BRP Cabra followed to ensure that the foreign ship left the country’s exclusive economic zone. 

The Philippine Coast Guard said the crew strictly followed the manual on enforcing rules within the EEZ. 

When asked about the incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the matter and directed questions to other authorities.

The relations between both nations worsened since March after China began deploying militia ships near the Whitsun Reef, which comes under the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Since then, the Philippines had repeatedly registered its protest against Chinese incursions, including last month when it chased away Chinese ships from Sabina Shoal.

The Philippines has the backing of the U.S., which was reiterated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, who reaffirmed a Trump-era rejection of Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea. He said the U.S. would continue to defend the Philippines' armed forces from attack in the South China Sea, based on the 68-year old U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty

The U.S. recently sailed two aircraft carrier strike groups into the South China Sea as tensions rose, and a flotilla of ships centered around Britain's Queen Elizabeth carrier is on its way to the waters. 

Incidentally, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte who failed to press home his country's claims in the disputed reefs despite an international arbitral panel's ruling against Beijing, faced accusations that China helped him win the country's elections in 2016. Duterte has questioned those claims.

The Philippines has boosted "sovereignty patrols" involving the navy and coast guard in the disputed Spratly Islands and other parts of the South China Sea Representation. A Philippines Coast Guard ship conducting 'sovereignty patrol' in South China Sea. Photo: Philippine coast Guard (PCG) / Handout