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Philippines snap back at China in South China Sea

MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly praised his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for his role in providing medical and other Covid-19 assistance to the virus-hit nation. It’s not clear, however, that’s how his own armed forces or countrymen view the situation.  

But Duterte’s blandishments stand in stark contrast to charges made by his top brass, witnessed in a new flare up over an until now unreported incident in February in the South China Sea involving a Philippine warship on a routine surveillance and resupply operation in the Spratly islands.

In mid-February, the Philippine Navy’s BRP Conrado Yap, the Southeast Asian country’s first modern corvette, detected “a radar contact of a gray-colored vessel,” which was later identified as a Chinese warship with bow number 514, according to the Philippine military’s West Command.

It’s not clear whether the Chinese vessel belongs to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or, more likely, the armada of militia vessels operating in the area under Beijing’s command.  The Chinese vessel was reportedly equipped with a “gun control director” which “track targets and makes all the main guns ready to fire in under a second,” the Philippine military said.

A Philippine official, speaking on condition of anonymity with The Associated Press, accused the Chinese warship of pointing “fire control radar” at the Philippine vessel, an aggressive maneuver which locks weapons on a target prior to firing shots.

Another Filipino official described the near-encounter as “very hostile” and “unprovoked”, even though there were no actual fire exchanges.

Sensing public outrage, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin stepped up criticism of China, lashing out at what he described as “violations of international law and Philippine sovereignty.”

“At 5:17 pm today, the Chinese Embassy received two diplomatic protests: 1. on the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in PH waters and 2. declaring parts of a Philippine territory as part of Hainan province,” the Philippines’ top diplomat announced over Twitter on April 22.

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