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Philippines and China accuse each other of South China Sea collisions

The Philippines and China have traded accusations over a collision of their vessels near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea as tensions over claims in the vital waterway escalate.

The shoal is part of what are internationally known as the Spratly Islands.

China’s coastguard said in a statement on Sunday that two Philippine vessels, ignoring repeated warnings, had “illegally entered the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef in the Nansha Islands without the approval of the Chinese government”.

It said the Unaizah Mae 1 “made an unprofessional and dangerous sudden turn, intentionally ramming into China Coast Guard vessel 21556”. It said the Philippine side bore full responsibility.

Spokesperson Gan Yu also called on the Philippines to stop its “provocative acts”, saying Beijing would continue to carry out “law-enforcement activities” in its waters.

Meanwhile, the Philippine coastguard accused China of firing water cannons and ramming resupply vessels and a coast guard ship, causing “serious engine damage” to one.

Spokesperson Jay Tarriela said in a statement on the social media platform X that the “M/L Kalayaan suffered serious engine damage. Contrary to China Coast Guard disinformation, UM1 rammed by CCG vessel”.

Hours before Sunday’s incident, around 200 Philippine fishermen, youth leaders and civil society groups had joined a Christmas convoy to the area to deliver donations.

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But the convoy’s organiser said the fishing boats decided to pull out as they “erred on the side of caution” due to the presence of Chinese boats.

The Philippines and China have a long history of maritime incidents in the contested South China Sea, through which more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne trade passes annually.

Sunday’s incident comes a day after Manila accused Beijing of firing water cannon at a civilian-operated government fishing vessel, a move Beijing called legitimate “control measures”.

According to Chinese state media, Beijing also said that it took “control measures” against the three Philippine vessels in the South China Sea that it claimed had intruded into waters near Scarborough Shoal on Saturday.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. But the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis.

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