Philippines likely to increase illegal resupply activities to grounded warship in Ren’ai Jiao in 2024: report

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

The number of illegal resupply activities to the illegally grounded warship in the South China Sea by the Philippines will continue to increase in 2024, an expert from Chinese think tank Grandview Institution warned based on a report the institution released on Tuesday.

According to the report, in 2022, the Philippine Navy conducted 11 illegal resupply activities to the Ren’ai Jiao (Ren’ai Reef), while in 2023, the number increased to 14 with more disguised approaches. 

On May 9, 1999, the military vessel BRP
Sierra Madre illegally intruded into China’s Ren’ai Jiao, or what the Philippine side calls as the Second Thomas Shoal, running aground due to purported “technical difficulties.”

According to the latest report of the Grandview Institution, the vessel
Sierra Madre has been grounded in the Ren’ai Jiao for a long time with over ten Filipino soldiers stationed and this has constituted actual encroachment of the Ren’ai Jiao. The Philippine military’s Western Command is responsible for commanding the grounded troops and the Philippine Navy sends ships to resupply the grounded troop. 

As for whether the number of supply missions to the Ren’ai Jiao by the Philippines will continue to increase in 2024, Liu Xiaobo, director of the ocean research center of the Grandview Institution, told the Global Times. He noted  before 2023, the Philippine Navy supplied the grounded military vessel once a month, but after that, the number of illegal resupply activities increased. 

The current trend shows that the illegal supply actions in 2024 will continue to increase, according to Liu. “In order to reduce sensitivity, the Philippines has rented civilian ships – instead of sending military vessels – to supply the stranded ship under the escort of coast guard ships, but the Philippines has been reportedly taking advantage of the opportunity of resupplying troops to transport illegal construction materials to the grounded ship and China firmly opposed such attempt.” 

In addition, the Philippines currently invites international media to board transport ships and openly hype up China’s so-called “interception actions” against them in order to gain sympathy and support from the international community. However, images accompanying the report show that compared to before, the main deck of the vessel
Sierra Madre as been partially reinforced and renovated in 2023, indicating that the Philippines had secretly transported building materials long ago. 

The report also points out that the Philippines has enhanced construction on the islands it occupied in the South China Sea. Apart from Ren’ai Jiao, the Philippines has illegally occupied eight islands and reefs in China’s Nansha Islands, namely, Mahuan Dao, Feixin Dao, Zhongye Dao, Nanyao Dao, Beizi Dao, Xiyue Dao, Shuanghuang Shazhou, and Siling Jiao. In June 1978, it unilaterally went beyond its territorial scope to set up the so-called “Kalayaan Island Group,” which violates China’s territorial sovereignty.

Before 2022, the Philippines conducted less construction on the occupied islands and reefs. But in March 2022, the Philippines built a new helicopter landing pad on the Mahuan Dao; and in May of that year, the Philippine Coast Guard established command observation stations on the Mahuan Dao and others. These command observation stations monitor surrounding vessels and report information to the Philippine Coast Guard headquarters, according to the report.   

In January 2024, Manila’s military chief Romeo Brawner told media that the Philippines would develop islands in all the nine islands and reefs in the South China Sea that it considers part of its territory to make them more habitable for troops. 

The Philippines Coast Guard recently claimed that China was attempting to build an “artificial island” in the Ren’ai Jiao. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Monday “the Philippines has repeatedly spread rumors, deliberately vilified China and tried to mislead the international community. None of those attempts will succeed.” 

Wang also urged the Philippines to stop making irresponsible remarks, face up to the facts and return to the right track of properly handling maritime disputes through negotiation and consultation. 

Liu believes the Philippines will continue to advance its confrontational South China Sea policy in 2024. He points out that main factors contributing to the escalation of the disputes between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea include the pro-stance of the Marcos government, the increased assistance from the US and its allies to the Philippines, as well as the joint defense commitment of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty that backs and encourages the Philippines’ provocative actions of encroachment. 

In addition, the Philippines has strengthened its maritime military capabilities in recent years, providing it with confidence, Liu said. But ASEAN countries will continue to be important forces in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea with China as resolving disputes through peaceful means and maintaining regional peace and stability remains a consensus between ASEAN countries and China despite the differences in their concerns and positions on the South China Sea issue, Liu noted.

Manila violating commitments, denying previous agreement and abandoning understandings escalate Ren’ai Jiao tensions: Chinese FM

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

This photo taken on November 10, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard personnel and journalists sailing onboard a rigid inflatable boat (left) as they head back after filming the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at Renai Jiao in South China Sea. Photo: AFP

If the Philippines truly wants to ease tensions at Ren’ai Jiao through dialogue and communication, it needs to honor the commitments and understandings and stop provocations, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry Mao Ning said at a press conference on Thursday. 

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday called on China to talk to prevent more incidents like ramming vessels and the use of water cannons in the South China Sea, Voice of America reported.

The Philippines continues to talk with China, and is exhausting all options to speak to Chinese leadership so as not to heat up tensions in the waterway, Marcos claimed, according to media report. 

In response, Mao reiterated on Thursday China’s indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, Ren’ai Jiao included, and their surrounding waters.

She stressed that China has always been committed to managing the on-site situation of Ren’ai Jiao through dialogue and consultation with the Philippines. 

Mao reiterated that on how to deal with the current situation at Ren’ai Jiao, China’s position is clear-cut. First, by keeping its warship grounded at Ren’ai Jiao for decades running, the Philippines has been violating China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), especially Article 5 which says refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands and reefs. We demand that the Philippines tow away the warship at once and restore the Ren’ai Jiao’s state of hosting zero personnel and facilities.

Second, before the warship is towed away, if the Philippines needs to send living necessities, out of humanitarianism, China is willing to allow it if the Philippines informs China in advance and after on-site verification is conducted. China will monitor the whole process.

Third, if the Philippines sends large amount of construction materials to the warship and attempts to build fixed facilities and permanent outpost, China will not accept it and will resolutely stop it in accordance with law and regulations to uphold China’s sovereignty and the sanctity of the DOC.

The recent attempts by the Philippines to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao and Tiexian Jiao (Tiexian Reef) have seriously violated Article 5 of the DOC, said Lei Xiaolu, a professor of law with China Institute of Boundary and Ocean Studies, Wuhan University.   

In 1999, the Philippines illegally grounded the “BRP Sierra Madre” warship on Ren’ai Jiao under the pretext of “mechanical failure” and promised to tow it away. However, in recent years, the Philippines has acted in bad faith, claiming to build permanent facilities on Ren’ai Jiao. 

The Philippines believes the South China Sea arbitration case gives it a legal basis for the illegal occupation of Ren’ai Jiao, but in fact, the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration case has no jurisdiction to handle sovereignty disputes over Ren’ai Jiao as part of the Nansha Islands. Tiexian Jiao is an uninhabited high-tide feature within 12 nautical miles of Zhubi Jiao (Zhubi Reef) and is part of the Nansha Islands, according to Lei. 

If the Philippines’ activities are tolerated, the dispute settlement mechanism established in Article 5 of the DOC will be weakened, potentially reopening the “Pandora’s Box” of new round of island occupation by some countries, which will have a negative impact on regional peace and stability, Lei noted. 

China and the Philippines established several channels of communication on the South China Sea issue, the most important one being the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) established in 2016, noted Yan Yan, Direct of Research Center for Oceans Law and Policy, National Institute for South China Sea Studies. 

The hotline between China and the Philippines coast guards was established after then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China on cooperation between the two countries’ coast guard in 2016 and is the most direct means of communication between the maritime law enforcement agencies of the two countries. In August 2023, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela announced the abandonment of this hotline mechanism, saying they will no longer be communicating directly with their Chinese counterpart. 

In January of this year, the 8th meeting of the BCM was held in Shanghai. China and the Philippines agreed to “further improve the sea-related communication mechanism, continue to properly manage sea-related conflicts and differences through friendly consultations, and deal with maritime emergencies.” 

However, the Philippines’ actions on Huangyan Dao and Ren’ai Jiao have not been curtailed despite the consultation. It seems that the Philippines’ strategy is to use action instead of words and dialogue, to show its presence and attempt to change the status quo in the South China Sea, Yan stressed. 

China and ASEAN Foreign Ministers signed the DOC in November, 2002. 

For the past 22 years, the DOC has served as a crucial political consensus and cornerstone for maintaining peace in the region. China and ASEAN countries have successfully engaged in various constructive maritime cooperation, including marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication at sea, search and rescue operations, and combating transnational crime, in accordance with Article 6 which allows for cooperative activities pending a comprehensive settlement of disputes, said Yang Xiao, Deputy director of Institute of Maritime Strategy Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. 

Article 6 regulates cooperative activities among the parties concerned. These may include the following: marine environmental protection; marine scientific research; safety of navigation and communication at sea; search and rescue operation; and combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking of illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms. 

However, beyond the positive momentum of promoting cooperation between China and most ASEAN countries, there has been some sort of noise off and on for some time, especially the Philippines which has repeatedly violated its commitments and obligations, Yang pointed out. 

There is no doubt that “cooperation” is the most approved axiom paved by DOC for peace and development in the South China Sea … Any actions or intentions that undermine these commitments and cooperation should be firmly opposed by all parties to DOC and by nations dedicated to peace and prosperity, Yang noted. 

Global Times

GT exclusive: Filipino fishermen show no interest in govt-initiated ‘militia’ plan, call for peace and friendship

Editor’s Note:

The Philippines has escalated its battle against Beijing on the South China Sea issue by pushing fishermen to the frontline, collaborating with Western journalists to spread biased narratives, and conspiring with the US and Japan to contain China. 

Global Times reporters recently visited the Philippines to investigate the truth behind these provocations, engaging in conversations with local fishermen, ordinary citizens, politicians, and scholars. 

This is the first installment of the series, which sheds light on how Filipino fishermen have refused to be used as pawns by the current administration in the conflict.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel MRRV-4402, a boat that has repeatedly illegally entered China's Huangyan Dao and Ren'ai Jiao, is docked at PCG's headquarters in Manila on March 27, 2024. Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel MRRV-4402, a boat that has repeatedly illegally entered China’s Huangyan Dao and Ren’ai Jiao, is docked at PCG’s headquarters in Manila on March 27, 2024. Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

The Philippine government seeks to encourage its fisherfolk to be the vanguard of the South China Sea dispute through government-organized group fishing and its premeditated “militia” plan. However, the Global Times’ recent in-person visit to the Philippines and conversations with local fishermen revealed that Filipino fishermen show no intention of participating in any “militia” plan or being drawn into the current administration’s strategy against China. 

In fact, fishermen in the Philippines are seeking more peace and cooperation, as the current tensions have disrupted their fishing activities and diminished their income. Their practical mindset contrasts sharply with the sensational narratives created by local media outlets and some politicians with ulterior motives.

Unlike the image of Filipino fishermen that the Philippine government intends to portray – a group with a strong desire for combat or aggression in territorial disputes – the fishermen in Masinloc, a Philippine town closest in proximity to China’s Huangyan Dao (also known as Huangyan Island, or Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines) in the South China Sea, showed no signs of fear, distrust, confrontation, or hostility when they learned that they were talking to reporters from China. 

Instead, the fishermen warmly expressed a clear desire for friendship and peace. Some curious and friendly fishermen approached to the reporters and actively shared their fishing experiences in the waters of Huangyan Dao in front of the camera. In conversations with Global Times reporters, many fishermen repeatedly stressed, “We are not enemies.”

Since 2023, the Philippines has been sending government vessels and fishing ships to provoke disputes in the South China Sea, particularly near China’s Huangyan Dao, under the guise of “ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen.” Interestingly, fishing activities have not been disrupted since 2016 when China offered a temporary dispensation for Philippine fishermen, a situation that has become problematic due to the current administration’ decision to “protect them.”

So, who benefits from turning fishermen into pawns in the South China Sea battlefield? This investigative report provides the answer.

A Filipino fisherman stands on a wooden boat at Masinloc port, Philippines. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

A Filipino fisherman stands on a wooden boat at Masinloc port, Philippines. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

Refused to be ‘kidnapped’

The small town of Masinloc in the northern Philippines, about 125 nautical miles from China’s Huangyan Dao, is a peaceful seaside fishing port. Local fishermen have been fishing here for generations. The raging storm in the sea has typically been the only thing for them to confront, but now they have been presented with a new “opponent” – China. Searching the term Masinloc on YouTube and social media reveals videos of confrontations between local fishermen and the China Coast Guard, as opposed to the island’s picturesque beauty previously. 

In the narratives of some Western and Philippine media outlets, the fishermen of Masinloc seem to have become one of the most radical groups in the Philippines in confronting China. But the Global Times’ field visit reveals a different reality.

Local fishermen who spoke with the Global Times said that a large amount of seafood on their shelves is caught in the South China Sea and their normal fishing activities in the area are still ongoing as normal.Jessie Caasi, a fisherwoman, told the Global Times that many fisherfolk like her typically make regular trips – about three days a week – to Huangyan Dao to fish. In recent months, they have mainly used two government-provided fishing boats, with each boat carrying around 15 people, making a total of about 30 people per trip.

Jorin Egana, a 29-year-old fish vendor, also confirmed the offer. He told the Global Times that these two government-provided boats have been made available since January, equipped with basic supplies such as water, food, and medicine. Prior to this, most fishermen used to rent boats for individual fishing trips. 

The official assistance is seen as a sign of the government’s deeper involvement in the increasingly intense situation, they believed. 

Caasi said she regrets that they are currently unable to enter the main fishing areas of Huangyan Dao due to the escalating conflict between the two governments. She stressed that there were no restrictions at all before the current administration took office.

“At that time, the China Coast Guard was friendly, and Chinese and Filipino fishermen could fish together there. We greeted each other as friends and got along well. But in recent days, our news reports kept saying that China wanted to occupy the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Dao), and the government began warning us to be careful when fishing there,” she said.

A previous piece by the Philippine media outlet the Inquirer cited Wilson Almadin, a 41-year-old Philippine fisherman who encountered the China Coast Guard at Huangyan Dao in November 2016, saying that “China Coast Guard vessels approached the boats of our fellow fishermen but only to share their food, liquor, and cigarettes.” 

However, that is a bygone era for fishermen like Caasi today.

Although China neither accepts nor recognizes the so-called South China Sea Arbitration, in 2016, the country gave a special dispensation to Philippine fishermen to maintain their small-scale artisanal fishing activities around Huangyan Dao under humanitarian considerations.

From 2016 to 2023, China has stuck to its commitment. Despite the territorial and maritime disputes between the two sides, the livelihood of the fisherfolk has never been affected, which, as experts have noted, represents China’s goodwill in maintaining the peace and stability of the region.

However, the status quo changed since the Philippines began to send government vessels to the territorial sea of Huangyan Dao in the second half of 2023. In this case, China had to respond and repel the government vessels in accordance with the law.

In 2024, the Philippines started initiating more provocations. The Philippine fishery vessel group was reportedly accompanied by the Ship 3002 which belongs to the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources when they trespassed into the waters off Huangyan Dao. 

A source close to the matter told the Global Times that the Philippine official ship typically acts as a mother ship while at sea, not only providing fuel, fresh water, and food supplies to Philippine fishing boats, but also serving as a commander to direct different batches of fishing boats to illegally enter disputed waters. 

Additionally, the Philippines has openly planned to deploy its own maritime militia to “defend its sovereignty” amid a raging territorial row with China. 

“We want our fisherfolk to become reservists and teach them how to help in defending the country,” Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr, the Filipino armed forces chief, said in a statement in August 2023.

On February 23, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) publicly acknowledged that “it would also continue to carry out its duty of distributing fuel subsidies to the Filipino fishing boats that are present in the area to support their prolonged fishing activities.”

However, the fishermen interviewed by the Global Times said that they have not received any subsidies from the government specifically to support them in fishing around Huangyan Dao.

They emphasized that they will not participate in the government’s plan to turn fishermen into militia, noting that it is “too dangerous.”

“The Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Dao) is too far away. I would rather stay in nearby waters to fish and earn less money. I don’t know why the Philippine military is doing this [militia plan]. I feel like very few people would be willing to cooperate with this plan,” the 29-year-old fisherman Jorin Egana told the Global Times. 

“I don’t consider those kinds of unilateral actions from our government to be beneficial to the peaceful settlement of disputes. If you increase maritime militias in the South China Sea, you are in fact increasing the chances of violence. Let the fisherman be fishermen,” Rommel Banlaoi, Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research, told the Global Times in Manila.

Opposing voices are already growing in the Philippine fishery circle. In August 2023, a Philippine fisher group on the Philippines’ illegally occupied Zhongye Dao (also known as Zhongye Island) turned down the militia plan by the government, local media source Philstar reported. 

The group’s president Larry Hugo said that it would be “difficult” for them to undergo military training and that he would prefer not to carry firearms.

A Global Times reporter talks to a fisherman at a port in Masinloc, a Philippine town close to China's Huangyan Dao on March 29, 2024. Photo: Zou Zhidong/GT

A Global Times reporter talks to a fisherman at a port in Masinloc, a Philippine town close to China’s Huangyan Dao on March 29, 2024. Photo: Zou Zhidong/GT

True voices repressed for political interests

The antagonism fomented by the Philippine government has also spread on the battlefield of public opinion.

In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) by Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard’s spokesperson, pinned at the top of his timeline for a long time asserts “If you are a Filipino, whether in government or private sector, regardless of your politics, defending and making excuses for China’s aggressive behavior should deem you unpatriotic, and a traitor to the Philippines and to our people.”

Moreover, the Philippine government has organized for Western media reporters to board the vessels to deliberately hype up and mislead the international community.

Contrary to what was imagined and portrayed by the Filipino media, Global Times reporters did not feel any animosity during their visits to several Philippine cities. They do not see China as an enemy in territorial disputes, but rather as a partner that can bring economic benefits. They also expressed doubts about the authenticity of media’s sensationalized reports. 

For example, Ana Liza Felix, the owner of a coffee shop near the tourist destination the Church of Saint Augustine in Manila, said that she has heard some news reports about the disputes between the two countries and some negative descriptions of China, but believed them to be “one-sided stories,” or politically motivated, and she is not sure whether any of the reports hold any truth. 

Felix told the Global Times that she believes that China and the Philippines have deep roots, and most of the tourists who visit her shop are Chinese. “We have always interacted with each other in a friendly manner. If the disputes between the two countries lead to fewer tourists, I would be very sad. I do not want these disputes to affect my income. Only a friendly environment can create good economic benefits for us.”

This pragmatic mindset is also reflected by Filipino fishermen. Economic benefit is the most common reason driving them to fish near Huangyan Dao, as the profits can be three times higher than in other areas, they said, noting that a peaceful and friendly environment in the South China Sea can sustain their livelihoods.

Dodong Mola, an elderly fisherman who just went to Huangyan Dao in March, told the Global Times that he has been going to the island since 2000. He goes there once a year, staying for about three months each time, as the island has the most variety of fish, which are not often found elsewhere. The conditions for fishing at Huangyan Dao are tough, but they just hope to earn more money and do not want to be involved in frontline conflicts.

Another fisherman, Noli Balaga, who has seen his brothers often going to Huangyan Dao to fish told the Global Times that they, more than anyone, hope to see peaceful cooperation between the two countries so they can resume fishing. They also hope that the Philippine government can provide more practical assistance to their fishing activities, such as improving their wooden boats. 

Global Times reporters noticed that that the boats they use for fishing are less than one-meter wide, can only accommodate a few people, and can hardly withstand slight winds or waves.

A seafood merchant in Davao, Philippines, reads a newspaper about Philippine Coast Guard operations in the South China Sea on March 25, 2024. Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

A seafood merchant in Davao, Philippines, reads a newspaper about Philippine Coast Guard operations in the South China Sea on March 25, 2024. Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

“The issue in the South China Sea is only found in papers in the Philippines that are dominated by Western narratives. But if you go around the country, you’ll see that the ordinary people care more about peace. They don’t want war. They care more about fighting inflation and economic hardship. They care more about making commodities more affordable to them. They care more about having jobs. They care more about having good transportation. We need trains, we need roads, we need bridges that China can provide, and we need more trade with China. It’s a pity that many of the narratives in the media are controlled by this Western narrative of anti-China sentiment,” said Banlaoi.

When then Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte visited China in 2016, the two sides discussed fishery cooperation in the South China Sea, including bilateral cooperation in the fishing industry, and it was then that China agreed to make proper, specific arrangements given its friendly relations with the Philippines. 

Chinese officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs’ Bureau of Fisheries also visited Masinloc town in November 2016 to learn about what assistance they could provide to local fishermen. The following year saw a delegation of 17 Filipino fisheries representatives, some from Masinloc, who were invited to South China’s Shenzhen, to participate in training organized by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, bringing back China’s most advanced aquaculture technology to Manila. Experts said at the session that if China’s deep-sea net cage aquaculture technology could be promoted in the Philippines, the income of local fishermen could increase several times or even tens of times over. 

However, it is regrettable that today, when we set foot in Masinloc again, what is reported in the media is overwhelming about the territorial dispute, and the well intentioned and mutually beneficial fisheries cooperation seems to have disappeared from sight. 

The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch in Manila that marks the lasting friendship between two countries Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch in Manila that marks the lasting friendship between two countries Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

“The Filipino people have high expectations for peace and cooperation between the two countries, but their voices are marginalized, as part of the result of Philippines’ cognitive war against China,” Ding Duo, deputy director at the Research Center for Ocean Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times. 

“The current government is trying to divert public attention from various domestic contradictions caused by its ineffective governance through creating an external enemy, China. The government misleads the public domestically and plays the victim externally, which is not conducive to the resolution of the South China Sea issue,” the expert warned.

“We should not make the South China Sea issue deeply entangle China-Philippines relations,” said Ding.

During the short visit to the Philippines, Global Times reporters often saw headlines in the local newspapers reading “We will not be cowed into silence – Marcos,” and vendors in the fish markets reading newspaper claiming “China wants to occupy Huangyan Dao.” However, the most common phrase the reporters heard wherever they went was “we are not enemies” – from officials and ordinary people on the streets, to fishermen. 

Who benefits from changing the status quo by fanning the flame in the South China Sea? Perhaps the Philippine government should find some answers from the voices of their people.