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Chinese water cannon damages ship in new South China Sea flare-up, Philippines says

By Kathleen Magramo, Dhruv Tikekar and Brad Lendon, CNN

(CNN) — China’s coast guard fired water cannons that damaged a Philippine vessel on Tuesday, marking the latest flare-up of violence between the two countries in the disputed South China Sea, Philippine authorities said.

The Philippine Coast Guard said the incident occurred as one of its ships and a fisheries agency vessel carried out a “legitimate patrol” near Scarborough Shoal, a Chinese-controlled rocky outcrop 130 miles (200 kilometers) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon and inside Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

Video supplied by the Philippine Coast Guard showed two larger Chinese vessels firing water cannons from opposite sides of the Philippine ship.

“The Philippine vessels encountered dangerous maneuvers and obstruction from four China Coast Guard vessels and six Chinese Maritime Militia vessels,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said in the statement.

The Philippine Coast Guard ship suffered “damage to the railing and canopy,” according to its statement. No injuries were reported.

In a post on social platform Weibo Tuesday, the China Coast Guard said it had expelled the Philippine vessels for “intruding” into the waters, “in accordance with the law.”

Beijing asserts ownership over almost all of the South China Sea in defiance of an international court ruling. Over the past two decades, China has occupied a number of obscure reefs and atolls far from its shoreline across the South China Sea, building up military installations, including runways and ports.

Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island and is also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is a small but strategic reef and fertile fishing ground.

There are no structures on the shoal, but China has maintained a continuous coast guard presence around it since 2012, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

The Philippines also said Tuesday that China had reinstalled a 380-meter (1,247-feet) floating barrier that “covers the entire entrance of the shoal, effectively restricting access to the area.”

Scarborough Shoal is one of several disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea, which have long been a flashpoint of territorial disputes between the two nations.

In March, Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons against a Philippine vessel on a resupply mission to a contingent of Filipino marines on another contested South China Sea feature, Second Thomas Shoal, causing “heavy damages.”

That shoal sits about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the coast of the Philippine island of Palawan. In the 1990s the Philippines grounded an aging World War II-era transport ship called the BRP Sierra Madre on the shoal, to help enforce its claim to the area. The ship is now mostly a rusted wreckage and is staffed by marines stationed on rotation.

Following that incident, the China Coast Guard said on Weibo it had taken “control measures in accordance with the law” against the Philippine vessels, which it said had “illegally entered the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef,” as Beijing calls Second Thomas Shoal.

Earlier in March, Chinese water cannon hit a Philippine resupply boat as it headed to Second Thomas Shoal, shattering windows and injuring four Filipino sailors.

Beijing and Manila’s South China Sea disputes have heated up since the 2022 election of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has taken a stronger line against China than his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

The clashes have also raised fears they could lead to a wider conflict, as Manila maintains a mutual defense treaty with the United States, which Washington says covers Philippine vessels in the disputed waterway.

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