Chinese coast guard, navy boats chasing civilian boat in West Philippine Sea 'unjustifiable' â expert
This undated photo shows a Houbei (Type 022) class fast attack. The Type 022 is the Chinese navy's new-generation stealth missile fast attack craft .
People's Liberation Army Navy

Chinese coast guard, navy boats chasing civilian boat in West Philippine Sea 'unjustifiable' — expert

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - April 13, 2021 - 10:23am

MANILA, Philippines — The interception and pursuit of a Filipino civilian boat by Chinese navy and coast guard in the West Philippine Sea are unjustified and illegitimate, a maritime law expert said.

Last week, ABS-CBN News reported that their boat was chased by a China Coast Guard vessel and later on two Chinese navy Type 022 Houbei fast attack craft when the boat they were riding attempted to go near Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano narrated how the China Coast Guard ship radioed the Philippine vessel and required its identity, purpose or destination. 

The captain of the Philippine boat, however, did not understand English and decided to return to mainland Palawan instead.

The Chinese vessels went after the Philippine boat for at least an hour while the latter was sailing back to land. According to the report, the Chinese ships chased them until within 90 nautical miles from Palawan, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said such action from the China Coast Guard ship is an attempt to exercise jurisdiction over a Philippine vessel in the Philippine EEZ and continental shelf.

In a Facebook post on April 11, Batongbacal listed the reasons why this is invalid:

  • its patrols in the PH EEZ are not a valid exercise of high seas freedoms but an unlawful assertion of China’s invalid claims to Ayungin Shoal as part of broad and excessive claim to the SCS
  • it is an extension of China’s unlawful assertion of ownership and jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal, through the purported exercise of governmental authority thereon able to control access to it
  • it is an illegitimate attempt to exercise jurisdiction over a PH vessel, i.e., a vessel not flying a Chinese flag, in contravention of the principle of flag State jurisdiction

"Since the Chinese vessel has no legal competence over vessels of the PH, the PH vessel was therefore under no legal obligation to respond to such an invalid and illegitimate assertion and exercise of jurisdiction," Batongbacal wrote.

'Classic naval tactic'

Two People's Liberation Army Navy Type 022, armed with anti-ship missiles and 30mm cannon, continued to chase the Philippine boat after the coast guard vessel pulled back.

In a TV Patrol report Thursday night, ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano also narrated how the two Chinese missile boats positioned themselves on either side of their boat.

Batongbacal said this move is called the "flanking maneuver," a classic naval tactic "by which the two vessels can attack both sides of the target vessel."

The maritime law expert also noted that this is unjustifiable due to the following:

  • the Philippine vessel represented no threat, nor was it involved in any incident that threatened the safety of life at sea, security, or environment
  • it was already well on its way back to Palawan
  • the missile boats also had no valid ground for the exercise of the right of approach and visit

"The action is also a borderline threat of the use of force, in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. This escalatory action by the CCG and PLA-N risks a wider outbreak that endangers international peace and security," Batongbacal said.

Under 2(4) of the UN Charter:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

'Exercise prudence'

Following the incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reminded members of the media to "exercise prudence" in covering the West Philippine Sea.

"While we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job," AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said Philippine authorities are looking into the reports and will raise the matter with the Chinese government if proven true.

"The public is reminded to coordinate with Philippine authorities when planning a visit to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea," the DFA said in a statement released April 10. 

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