Flashpoints

South China Sea: Philippine Coast Guard Spots PLAN Warship Off Scarborough Shoal

The warship was accompanied by China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels.

Ankit Panda
South China Sea: Philippine Coast Guard Spots PLAN Warship Off Scarborough Shoal
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ NASA

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy warship has been seen near Scarborough Shoal, a disputed feature in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines and China.

According to Cmd. Armand Balilo, a spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, on Monday, a PLAN vessel was seen within 7 to 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal. Since a 2012 standoff between Beijing and Manila, China has maintained a constant presence at the disputed shoal, mainly in the form of maritime law enforcement vessels.

On Monday, Philippine Coast Guard personnel on board BRP Malabrigo spotted the Chinese vessel, alongside two China Coast Guard vessels, and two Chinese boats with the so-called maritime militia — irregular forces, usually in the form of fishing vessels.

The latest sighting of a PLAN warship near Scarborough Shoal comes after the intensification of China Coast Guard and maritime militia activity near Pag-asa Island, the site of the Philippines’ largest outpost in the South China Sea, in April and May.

President Rodrigo Duterte warned China to “lay off Pag-asa” in April, warning that the island belonged to the Philippines. Duterte’s warning came shortly after a visit to Manila by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March. Pompeo clarified that the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty would cover Philippine-administered features in the South China Sea.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Scarborough Shoal is located in the South China Sea, 120 nautical miles off the Philippines’ island of Luzon. In 2016, a Hague-based arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration decided in Manila’s favor regarding fishing rights at the shoal.

In 2013, the Philippines under the previous government of President Benigno Aquino III filed a case at the tribunal alleging that China had pressed excessive maritime claims at Scarborough Shoal and in the Spratly Islands, where the two countries also have overlapping claims.

The tribunal decided that China had “through the operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully prevented Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal.” The tribunal made no finding on the sovereignty of the feature, however.

The Chinese government disregarded the tribunal’s award, which was delivered in July 2016. Beijing did not formally participate in the legal proceedings. Since July 2016, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines has not pressed the 2016 arbitral tribunal award and instead pursued economic and diplomatic rapprochement with Beijing.

China also calls Scarborough Shoal Huangyan Dao. The shoal is also known by the Filipino names Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.