China sending huge force in Scarborough ahead of civilian mission

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China sending huge force in Scarborough ahead of civilian mission — expert

By: - Reporter /
/ 07:43 AM May 13, 2024

China sending ‘huge force’ in Scarborough ahead of civilian mission — expert

This frame grab from handout video footage taken and released on April 30, 2024, by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) shows the Philippine Coast Guard ship BRP Bagacay (C) being hit by a water cannon from Chinese Coast Guard vessels near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines said the China Coast Guard fired a water cannon on April 30 at two of its vessels, causing damage to one of them, during a patrol near a reef off the Southeast Asian country. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) / AFP)

MANILA, Philippines — A West Philippine Sea monitor on Monday said China is sending a “huge force” in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal ahead of the civilian convoy there, but organizers remain undeterred by what they branded as Beijing’s “intimidation.”

Director of SeaLight, Ray Powell, said that at least four China Coast Guard vessels (CCG) and 26 “large” Chinese maritime militias are expected to blockade the Atin Ito convoy.

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“China is sending a huge force to blockade Scarborough Shoal ahead of the Atin Ito civilian convoy setting sail from the Philippines Tuesday,” Powell, who heads the program of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation that tracks Chinese maritime activities in the West Philippine Sea, said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

“This will be by far the largest blockade I’ll have ever tracked at Scarborough,” Powell added. “China seems determined to aggressively enforce its claim over the shoal.”

China seized Scarborough Shoal’s lagoon in 2012 after a CCG standoff with Philippine vessels.

This action aligns with Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, even if such a claim has been effectively invalidated by a July 2016 international tribunal ruling from a case filed by Manila in 2013.

This landmark decision also included Scarborough Shoal, which was declared a traditional fishing ground that the Philippines, China, and Vietnam should share.

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The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea has yet to issue a statement.

Undeterred by ‘intimidation’

Rafaela David, chief convenor of the Atin Ito coalition, said they would not yield despite China’s deployment.

“China’s actions are failing to intimidate Filipinos,” David said in a statement. “Instead, they are only uniting us and inspiring us to go further in defending our rights.”

“Atin Ito shall press forward with our peaceful voyage undeterred by any intimidation,” she said.

The second civilian supply mission of the Atin Ito coalition will begin on Wednesday morning at Masinloc town in Zambales, led by an indigenous vessel serving as the mother boat, where volunteers and media members will also be aboard.

If left unimpeded, the journey is expected to last for 50 hours or until Saturday morning in a show of grit that would culminate in the laying down of buoys to assert the country’s sovereign rights there.

Not surprising

David, meanwhile, said the reported surge of Chinese presence is not surprising, but it stresses the urgent need to civilianize the maritime area.

“The reported heavy presence of Chinese marine vessels in Bajo de Masinloc is lamentable but not surprising,” David said, referring to another name of Panatag Shoal. “It only underscores the urgency of civilianizing the area in response to China’s militarization.”

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Last year, the first-ever supply mission of Atin Ito proved to be a success as one of their resupply boats managed to get past Chinese vessels and reach Lawak Island on December 11, bringing gifts for those who are based in BRP Sierra Madre—a Navy outpost in Ayungin Shoal—and other people in West Philippine Sea’s eight other maritime features.

However, this feat was not without challenges as a China Coast Guard vessel tailed the caravan’s mothership, TS Kapitan Felix Oca, prompting its captain to return to a port in El Nido, Palawan, on December 10. The convoy was supposed to go near the waters of Ayungin Shoal, where the World War II-era ship was aground.

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