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Rift deepens between Philippines, China over West Philippine Sea


Rift deepens between Philippines, China over West Philippine Sea

Relations between Manila and Beijing have soured under President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., with Manila pivoting back towards the United States, which supports the Philippines in its maritime disputes with China.

Here is a timeline of key events in 2023 that have escalated tensions between the Philippines and China:

JAN 3-5 - Marcos holds a three-day visit to Beijing where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree to set up direct communications between their foreign ministries on the South China Sea.

FEB 2 - The Philippines grants the United States greater access to four more military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

FEB 13-14 - The Philippines accuses China's coastguard of directing a "military-grade laser" at its troops living aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, an aging warship that Manila deliberately grounded on the disputed Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in 1999. Marcos summons China's ambassador.

MARCH 4 - The Philippines spots a Chinese navy ship and 42 vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island), Manila's biggest and most strategically important outpost in the West Philippine Sea.

APRIL 3 - The Philippines reveals the locations of the four additional bases that Washington can use under EDCA. Three face north towards Taiwan and one is near the disputed Spratly Islands.

A Patriot air missile system is fired during a live fire exercise in the annual Balikatan exercises, at a naval base in San Antonio, Zambales on April 25, 2023. REUTERS/ Eloisa Lopez

APRIL 11 - More than 17,000 Filipino and US soldiers begin their largest ever Balikatan joint military drills in the Philippines.

APRIL 22 - Marcos and Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo meet China's then-foreign minister Qin Gang in Manila, pledging to work together to resolve maritime differences.

MAY 1 - US President Joe Biden welcomes Marcos at the White House, the first visit by a Philippine leader in 10 years. They express "unwavering commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea."

MAY 3 - The United States and the Philippines agree on new guidelines for their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which specifically mention that mutual defense commitments would be invoked in an armed attack on either country "anywhere in the South China Sea."

JUNE 6 - The coast guards of the United States, Japan and the Philippines hold trilateral exercises in the South China Sea, the first such maneuvers.

JULY 7 - The Philippine military reports an "alarming" increase in the number of Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

AUG 5 - The Philippines accuses China's coast guard of blocking and firing a water cannon against a supply boat transporting food for troops on Ayungin Shoal (known in China as Renai Reef).

AUG 7 - China's coast guard urges the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded warship from Ayungin Shoal.

A coastguardsman uses a knife to cut the floating barrier placed by China at Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea, in a special operation the Philippine Coast Guard carried out on Monday, September 25, 2023. In a statement, the PCG said that the barrier was a hazard to navigation and a clear violation of international law. Photo: PCG

SEPT 24-25 - The Philippines accuses China's coast guard of installing a "floating barrier" near Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), and removes the object.

OCT 15 - The Philippine military says a Chinese navy ship shadowed and attempted to cut off a Philippine navy vessel conducting a resupply mission near Pag-asa Island.

OCT 22-24 - The Philippines accuses Chinese coast guard vessels of intentionally colliding with its vessels routinely supplying forces stationed at Ayungin Shoal. No one was harmed.

NOV 16 - The Philippines calls on China to remove all "illegal structures" built within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), cease reclamation in those areas and be accountable for the damage the activities caused.

NOV 21 - The militaries of the Philippines and the United States launch joint patrols from waters near Taiwan to the West Philippine Sea.

NOV 25 - The Philippines and Australia begin their first joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea.

DEC 3 - The Philippines monitors what it calls the "illegal presence" of more than 135 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef).

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner and AFP WesCom commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos join troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal on Dec. 10, 2023. Joseph Morong/GMA Integrated News

DEC 9-10 - The Philippines accuses China of firing water cannons at its boats, including one carrying AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr., and ramming others, causing serious engine damage. China's coast guard says the Philippine vessel intentionally rammed its ship.

DEC 11 - The Philippines calls the actions of Chinese vessels a "serious escalation."

DEC 19 - Marcos says a "paradigm shift" is needed in how his country approaches the South China Sea, as diplomatic efforts with Beijing were headed in a "poor direction."

DEC 21 - China says bilateral relations are at a crossroads and warns the Philippines against "misjudging" the maritime situation. — Reuters

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