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China ships in 'blockade positions' amid new Ayungin resupply mission —expert

China ships in 'blockade positions' amid new Ayungin resupply mission —expert

China has deployed four militia ships from Mischief Reef to "take up blockade positions" as the Philippines pushes through with its follow-up resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, a maritime security expert said Tuesday.

In a series of tweets, former US Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché Ray Powell said the Philippine mission was escorted by Philippine Coast Guard vessels BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan.

Powell also said China has deployed all of its 11 AIS-visible Qiong Sansha Yu militia ships starting Monday afternoon.

Powell is the director at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

On Monday, he said a Chinese coast guard ship was spotted at Mischief Reef (also known as Panganiban Reef) and is expected to block a new resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said it has received a similar report and soldiers are already prepared should there be a repeat of the water cannon incident on August 5.

On August 5, the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons against the Philippine Coast Guard fleet that was on a resupply mission to Filipino troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal.

Several countries  — led by the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada — expressed support for Manila and criticized China's actions, the latest in the string of several reported incidents of harassment against Philippine vessels this year.

BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

The Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

Manila previously called on Beijing to refrain from using water cannons.

AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr., meanwhile, declined to give further details on the resupply mission to protect the soldiers who will conduct it.

He said the military would observe tolerance and not retaliate should the mission encounter aggressive behavior. 

China has objected to the resupply missions, saying the Philippines is "transporting construction materials" to the grounded ship "with the intent of permanently occupying" the shoal.

Beijing is claiming Ayungin Shoal, which it calls Ren'ai Jiao, is part of its territory in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has dismissed China's demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal, saying the grounded ship is a permanent military station tasked to "protect and secure Philippine rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea."

No less than President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has denied that the government had promised China to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. He also said that he is rescinding any commitment should there really be an existing agreement between the Philippines and China on the removal of the vessel. KBK, GMA Integrated News