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Chinese Aircraft Carrier Shandong Lingers in Taiwan Strait, Philippine Resupply Mission Harassed

CNS Shandong underway off the

The People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier CNS Shandong (17) began a transit of the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. Meanwhile, the Philippines and China clashed again at Second Thomas Shoal on Friday, with a China Coast Guard ship using a water cannon against a Philippine supply ship.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense issued a statement stating that the Shandong carrier strike group had been sailing from south to north on the western side of the median line of the Taiwan Strait and was continuing to sail north at 8 a.m. on Thursday. The statement did not provide details on the ships accompanying Shandong during the transit, and the ministry has not issued any additional statements on the carrier’s movements.

Shandong’s home port is at Hainan Island, which lies southwest of the Taiwan Strait. The carrier routinely transits the Taiwan Strait when heading to or returning from maintenance at the shipyard in Dalian, located in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning. Shandong sailed back into the South China Sea on Monday following a 12-day deployment in the Western Pacific, where its embarked J-15 fighters carried out 420 sorties.

On Friday, the Philippines National Security Council issued a statement at 7:30 a.m., that said the China Coast Guard and China Maritime Militia harassed, blocked and executed dangerous maneuvers in an attempt to illegally impede or obstruct a routine resupply and rotation mission to the grounded LST BRP Sierra Madre (LS57) at Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin Shoal to the Philippines and Ren’ai Reef to China. The statement reported that CCG vessel 5203 used a water cannon against the Philippine supply vessel M/L Kalayaan in a failed attempt to force the Philippine ship to alter its course. It added that supply boats Unaizah Mae 1 and Kalayaan also faced reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity by CCG rigid-hulled inflatable boats inside the lagoon of Second Thomas Shoal during their approach to Sierra Madre, though both supply boats successfully reached LS 57.

The Philippine Embassy in Beijing has lodged a formal protest with the Chinese foreign ministry, and the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs has also reached out to China, conveying the Philippines’ protest directly through the Maritime Communications Mechanism, according to the statement. The statement also declared that the Philippines demanded the immediate departure of the Chinese ships responsible for these actions from the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal.

“We condemn, once again, China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal that has put the lives of our people at risk. The systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue,” said the statement. It also stated that the Philippines has acted responsibly, consistent with rules-based international law, and will not be deterred from exercising its legal rights over its maritime zones. “We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community,” concluded the statement. Three Philippine Coast Guard ships, patrol vessels BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702), BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), and BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) were involved in escorting the two supply ships, though, as per previous operations, they were blocked by CCG and CCM ships during the mission.

Second Thomas Shoal is one of the Philippines’ holdings in the disputed Spratly Islands. The Philippines deliberately grounded Sierra Madre in 1999 to serve as an outpost with a detachment of a dozen or so Philippine Marines. The deteriorating condition of the ship and shortage of storage space necessitate regular monthly resupply missions. China, which also claims the shoal, has accused the Philippines of using the resupply missions as cover to bring in construction materials to strengthen and expand the outpost there.

The CCG, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that on Friday, two small Philippine transport ships and three coast guard ships entered the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands without permission from the Chinese government. “The Chinese Coast Guard follows Philippine ships in accordance with the law, takes control measures, and makes temporary special arrangements for the Philippines to transport food and other necessary daily supplies,” said the statement, which also declared China has undisputed sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, which include Second Thomas Shoal, and urged the Philippines to immediately stop its infringing actions.

Around Japan, a PLAN Dongdiao class intelligence ship with hull number 799 has been operating, according to two statements by the Joint Staff Office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense. A Thursday statement reported that Dongdiao 799, which had earlier sailed southwest through the Miyako Strait on Oct. 28, was spotted sailing west at 3 p.m. on Wednesday approximately 31 miles east of Tanegashima Island, home to Japan’s largest space development and launch center, the Tanegashima Space Center. From Wednesday to Thursday, Dongdiao 799 transited the Osumi Strait to enter the East China Sea, while being monitored by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fleet oiler JS Oumi (AOE-426), the fast attack craft JS Shirataka (PG-829), and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Fleet Air Wing 1, based at Kanoya Air Base on the main island of Kyushu.

Friday’s statement from the Joint Staff Office indicated that at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Dongdiao 799 was observed sailing northeast approximately 68 miles southwest of Tsushima. From Thursday to Friday, the vessel transited the Tsushima Strait to enter the Sea of Japan. The minesweeper JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) and P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Fleet Air Wing 4, based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi on the main island of Honshu, conducted surveillance of the PLAN ship.

 

Categories: News & Analysis
Dzirhan Mahadzir

About Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.