China’s Attacks on Philippine Resupply Missions Test 70-Year-Old Defense Pact

Published March 29, 2024

Six days after China Coast Guard cutters blasted out the windows of a Philippine resupply ship with a water cannon, Manila is weighing whether a 70-year-old mutual defense pact could compel the U.S. military to defend Filipino forces in the South China Sea as a result.

On March 23, the Philippine Navy-operated, civilian-contracted resupply ship Unaizah Mae 4was attempting to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre outpost on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal when two Chinese cutters fired water cannons on the ship. According to footage released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the high-pressure blasts blew out windows on the bridge of Unaizah Mae 4 and injured sailors aboard.

The attack, the ninth and most aggressive since Chinese cutters restarted a campaign blocking the monthly resupply runs to the World War II-era Sierra Madre, is prompting politicians, analysts and lawyers across the Pacific to weigh the U.S. obligation to come to Manila’s aid under a 1951 mutual defense pact.

Both the U.S. State and Defense departments issued statements this week pledging commitment to the treaty.

“The United States reaffirms that Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from Foggy Bottom.



RELATED: Philippines strongly protests latest Chinese coast guard assault on resupply vessel

A Chinese coast guard ship fires a water cannon at a Philippine vessel on a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea in March 2024. IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS
Published March 29,  2024

The Philippines summoned a Chinese envoy over the China coast guard’s “aggressive actions” near a South China Sea reef in late March 2024.

It was the latest of Beijing’s repeated confrontations with Philippine vessels over the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) expansive and arbitrary territorial claims in the strategic waterway.


The Chinese coast guard fires water cannons at a Philippine supply vessel near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 23, 2024. The shoal is in Manila’s exclusive economic zone and houses a Philippine military contingent.


The incident took place March 23 near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands during a regular Philippine supply mission to troops garrisoned on the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded navy ship. Such missions deliver food, water and other necessities, as well as transport for personnel rotations.

The Philippines said the China coast guard blocked and fired water cannons at the supply vessel, injuring three crew members and damaging the boat.

Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and within Manila’s exclusive economic zone. The PRC claims the shoal even though it is more than 1,000 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese landmass, Hainan island.




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Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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