Philippines accuses China of seizing rocket part in disputed waters

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 21 2022 11:46 AM | Updated as of Nov 22 2022 03:40 PM

The Philippines on Nov. 21, 2022 accused the Chinese coastguard of 'forcefully' seizing the previous days parts of a rocket fairing that landed in its waters, but Beijing insisted the handover took place after 'friendly consultation'. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Coast Guard
The Philippines on Nov. 21, 2022 accused the Chinese coastguard of 'forcefully' seizing the previous day parts of a rocket fairing that landed in its waters, but Beijing insisted the handover took place after 'friendly consultation'. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA –– The Philippines on Monday accused the Chinese coastguard of "forcefully" seizing parts of a rocket fairing that landed in its waters, but Beijing insisted the handover took place after "friendly consultation".

A senior Filipino navy official made the allegation as US Vice-President Kamala Harris began a three-day visit to the Philippines aimed at boosting ties and countering China's growing clout in the region. 

A Chinese coastguard vessel on Sunday "blocked" a Filipino rubber boat towing an "unidentified floating object" in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said. 

The Chinese coast guard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat team which "forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the (Filipino) rubber boat", he said.

The object was then taken to the Chinese coastguard vessel as the Filipino personnel returned to their station, Carlos said.

No Filipino personnel were injured in the incident.

The object resembled debris from Chinese rocket fairings recovered this month from the island of Busuanga, north of Palawan, military spokeswoman Major Cherryl Tindog told reporters.

Ariel Carlos, municipal information officer of Kalayaan town which has jurisdiction over Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in which vicinity the debris was discovered, said "we're supposed to get it and turn it over to the right agency, kasi nasa area naman natin 'yan (because it's within our area)." 

He disclosed that Chinese ships have remained visible near Pag-asa Island, with more than 30 suspected militia vessels detected on Sunday.

China's foreign ministry on Monday confirmed the object was the remnant of a rocket fairing recently launched by Beijing, but denied "interception and seizing" had taken place.

"After friendly consultation on the spot, the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side," foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press conference.

China has faced criticism for allowing parts of rockets to fall to Earth uncontrolled in the past.

In July, remnants from a Chinese rocket fell into the Sulu Sea in the Philippines, prompting leading US officials to chide Beijing for not sharing information about the potentially hazardous object's descent.

The latest incident came a day before the US vice president's visit. 

Harris met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday and will head to the western Philippine island of Palawan, the closest major landmass to the disputed Spratlys, on Tuesday. Her activities will be held in the provincial capital of Puerto Princesa.

"The Youth For Kalayaan, whose president is a member of our Municipal Council, will attend the meeting (with Harris)... (The message we want to convey) has always been security and environment. That's what we've focused on ever since. And of course, our freedom to fish around the area because it's ours after all," Carlos, the Kalayaan municipality official, told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway through which trillions of dollars worth of ship-borne trade passes every year.

© Agence France-Presse 

- with ABS-CBN News

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