Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy

Nov 20, 2022, 3:57 AM | Updated: Nov 21, 2022, 2:50 am

FILE - This photo taken from a C-130 transport plane with Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana and Armed ...

FILE - This photo taken from a C-130 transport plane with Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano shows Thitu Island off the South China Sea on April 21, 2017. A Chinese coast guard vessel twice blocked the Philippine naval boat before seizing the debris it was towing Sunday off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said Monday., Nov. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — China’s coast guard forcibly seized apparent Chinese rocket debris that was being towed by the Philippine navy, in the latest confrontation in the disputed South China Sea, a Philippine military commander said Monday.

The Chinese vessel twice blocked the Philippine naval boat before seizing the debris it was towing Sunday off Philippine-occupied Thitu island, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said. He said no one was injured in the incident.

China denied there was a forcible seizure and said the debris, which it confirmed was from a Chinese rocket launch, was handed over by Philippine forces after a “friendly consultation.”

It was the latest flareup in long-seething territorial disputes in the strategic waterway involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Chinese coast guard ships have blocked Philippine supply boats delivering supplies to Filipino forces in the disputed waters in the past but seizing objects in the possession of another nation’s military constitutes a more brazen act.

Carlos said the Filipino sailors, using a long-range camera on Thitu island, spotted the debris drifting in strong waves near a sandbar about 800 yards (540 meters) off shore. They set out on a boat and retrieved the floating object and started to tow it back to the island.

As they were traveling back to the island, “they noticed that a China coast guard vessel with bow number 5203 was approaching their location and subsequently blocked their pre-plotted course twice,” Carlos said in a statement.

The Chinese coast guard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat with personnel who “forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line” attached to the Filipino sailors’ rubber boat. The sailors decided to return to their island, Carlos said, without detailing what happened.

Maj. Cherryl Tindog, spokesperson of the military’s Western Command, said the floating metal object appeared similar to a number of other pieces of Chinese rocket debris recently found in Philippine waters. She added that the Filipino sailors did not resist the seizure.

“We practice maximum tolerance in such a situation,” Tindog told reporters. “Since it involved an unidentified object and not a matter of life and death, our team just decided to return.”

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry denied that the debris was seized forcibly.

“The Philippine side salvaged and towed the object first. After friendly consultation at the site, the Philippine side returned the object to China, and China expressed appreciation for that,” ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said. “There was no such thing as interception or forcible seizure at the scene.”

Metal debris from Chinese rocket launches, some showing part of what appeared to be a Chinese flag, has been found in Philippine waters in at least three other instances.

Rockets launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on China’s Hainan island in recent months have carried construction materials and supplies for China’s crewed space station.

China has been criticized previously for allowing rocket stages to fall to Earth uncontrolled. The Philippine Space Agency earlier this month pressed for the Philippines to ratify U.N. treaties providing a basis for compensation for harm from other nations’ space debris, and NASA accused Beijing last year of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris” after parts of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean.

The Philippine government has filed many diplomatic protests against China over aggressive actions in the South China Sea but it did not immediately say what action it would take following Sunday’s incident. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila would usually wait for an official investigation report before lodging a protest.

Thitu island, which Filipinos call Pag-asa, hosts a fishing community and Filipino forces and lies near Subi, one of seven disputed reefs in the offshore region that China has turned into missile-protected islands, including three with runways, which U.S. security officials say now resemble forward military bases.

The Philippines and other smaller claimant nations in the disputed region, backed by the United States and other Western countries, have strongly protested and raised alarm over China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the busy waterway.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is visiting Manila, was scheduled to fly to the western province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, on Tuesday to underscore American support to the Philippines and renew the U.S. commitment to defend its longtime treaty ally if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under attack in the disputed waters.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

6 days ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

6 days ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

6 days ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

7 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

7 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

10 days ago

Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy