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China says it retrieved floating object after ‘friendly consultation’ with Philippine side

China on Monday denied that its coast guard cut the line between a Philippine naval station team and an unidentified floating object being towed in waters off Pag-Asa Island.

According to a statement from the Chinese embassy in Manila, the Chinese also denied blocking the Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene.

Citing the spokesperson of China's foreign ministry, the embassy said, "At around 8:00 am on November 20 a China Coast Guard ship found an unidentified floating object in the waters off the Nansha Islands, which was later identified as the wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by China."

"Before the China Coast Guard found the said floating object some Philippine Navy personnel already retrieved and towed it," it added.

"After friendly consultation the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side on the spot," the Chinese embassy said.

"The Chinese side expressed gratitude to the Philippine side. There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene," it added.

Pag-asa Island is the largest among the nine areas occupied by Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea. It is about 280 nautical miles northwest of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

Earlier, the Philippines’ Western Command (Wescom) said a team from Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) was towing the debris when a Chinese coast guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5203 “forcefully retrieved” it from them and blocked their pre-plotted course twice.

Wescom commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said the CCG “deployed its Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat” and “forcefully retrieved the floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the NSEL rubber boat.”

The NSEL personnel decided to return to Pag-asa Island. None of its personnel were injured during the incident, which has already been reported to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) for appropriate action.

Wescom spokesperson Major Cherryl Tindog said the object resembles the metal debris found in Busuanga, Palawan, earlier this month.

She also said the actions to be taken related to the incident, including the possible filing of protests, will be up to the NTF WPS.

The Philippine Coast Guard previously reported a group of fishermen recovered a large piece of metal debris in the vicinity waters off Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro on November 6.—NB, GMA Integrated News