China rebukes Philippines, denies blocking medical evacuation from Second Thomas Shoal

China has hit out at the Philippines, accusing it of “deliberately misleading” the international community over their latest squabble in the South China Sea in which Philippine forces claimed Chinese vessels tried to block the evacuation of a sick soldier.

In a statement on Tuesday, China Coast Guard said it had allowed the Philippines to evacuate an ill person from an “illegally grounded warship” under “humanitarian considerations” and had “monitored and verified” their actions in accordance with the law.

According to the Philippine Navy, the navy patient was taken from the BRP Sierra Madre – a rusting vessel that was run aground at Second Thomas Shoal 25 years ago – to Camp Ricarte Station Hospital in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

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It said the Philippine coastguard had “faced numerous obstructing and delaying manoeuvres” by its Chinese counterpart but “remained steadfast”.

Chinese coastguard spokesman Gan Yu said in the statement: “The relevant Philippine parties ignored the facts, maliciously hyped up [accusations], and deliberately misled international cognition.”

“The Chinese coastguard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in China’s jurisdictional waters in accordance with the law, and resolutely safeguard the country’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Gan said.

He said China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Nansha Islands, also known as the Spratly Islands, including Renai Reef and its surrounding waters.

Renai Reef – which is also known as Second Thomas Shoal or in the Philippines as Ayungin Shoal – is within the 200-nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone of the Philippines but is also claimed by China.

The hotspot has seen clashes occur repeatedly between China and the Philippines for more than a year. The most recent and serious confrontation was on June 17 when, according to Beijing, Philippine vessels attacked Chinese boats. Manila claimed a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Philippine resupply ship.

A month ago, the Philippine coastguard accused its Chinese counterpart of blocking a medical evacuation from the warship, calling the actions “barbaric and inhumane”.

The latest row came just a day after China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a report saying the Sierra Madre had “seriously damaged the diversity, stability and sustainability of the coral reef ecosystems”.

“The Philippines should remove the warship and eliminate the source of the pollution to avoid persistent and cumulative harm to the coral reef ecosystem of Renai Reef,” the ministry said.

It said its latest conclusion was drawn from assessments based on satellite sensing technology and on-the-spot studies conducted from April to June this year.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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