The Chinese navy put in place an obstacle blocking one of the international waterways north of the Philippines in a move seen as adding fresh focus to the already tense, year-long crisis over a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
The Philippine navy on Saturday completed its resupply mission, as Manila attempts to get relief supplies and equipment through the South China Sea.
The blockade was put in place earlier this week by China, which is garrisoning the uninhabited but strategically vital reef and wants to allow its territorial claims in the South China Sea to run uninterrupted. The Chinese fast patrol boats allegedly blocked the Philippines ships to prevent troops from taking relief supplies and equipment through the area.
“If need be, we will continue to work with our Philippine allies in the United States and Japan to free and deliver essential goods and relief, including fuel, to distressed Filipinos,” China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, said at a news conference in the Chinese capital Friday. “Our position on the relevant issue is consistent and clear-cut.”
China’s blockade came amid a South China Sea standoff between the Philippine navy and Chinese naval forces over Scarborough Shoal, a busy and deep-water reef about 160 miles off the Philippines coast.
The confrontation came to light when a Chinese fighter jet collided with the Philippine coast guard ship the Rizal in the area July 6 and darted past, narrowly missing two coast guard vessels attempting to sail within 50 meters of the Chinese ship.
The Chinese military took over the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippine navy in 2012 after they declared it an air defense identification zone, allowing aircraft to enter the area without asking.
The Chinese naval forces also have ordered the arrest of scores of fishermen from the region who they accused of illegally fishing in its waters.
The Chinese command has urged the Philippines not to resupply the Philippines coast guard and claim they have urged Filipinos to have “self-restraint” over the current standoff.
The Philippine coast guard has not commented on what China wants the Philippines to do.
The Philippine government has pleaded for the United States to take part in any attempt to resupply.
As of Saturday, the Philippine navy had managed to escort a World Food Program ship and a U.S. naval vessel through the blockade, said Luzviminda Ilagan, a presidential adviser on foreign affairs.