Chinese embassy denies ‘forceful’ retrieval of unidentified floating object near Pag-asa Island

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(File photo of Pag-asa Island)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) — The Chinese embassy contradicted reports about the Chinese Coast Guard “forcefully” taking an unidentified floating object from the Philippine Navy, saying there was a “friendly consultation” between involved parties.

In a statement late Monday evening, the embassy said “relevant reports are inconsistent with facts.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command (Wescom) on the same day reported that the unidentified floating object the Philippine Navy had retrieved off Pag-asa Island was taken “forcefully.”

The Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) noticed the object drifting about 800 yards west off the island on Sunday morning through a long-range camera, Wescom Commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said.

According to the embassy, the object was found at 8 a.m. on Nov. 20, floating in the waters off the Nansha Islands, which they identified as the wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by China.

The command's spokesperson Major Cherryl Tindog told reporters that the item looked similar to the debris earlier found in Busuanga, Palawan, which the Philippine Space Agency said was likely part of the fairing of a Chinese rocket launched on Oct. 31. 

According to Carlos, members of the NSEL team went to the area and tied the object to their boat so they could bring it back to their station.

“However, as the NSEL Team was towing the floating object, they noticed that China Coast Guard vessel with Bow Number 5203 was approaching their location and subsequently blocked their pre-plotted course twice,” he said.

The commander also said the Chinese then deployed their rigid hull inflatable boat and took the object by cutting the towing line attached to the NSEL rubber boat, before towing it back to the coast guard vessel.

The navy said it decided to return to Pag-asa Island, and that no member was injured.

“Maximum tolerance naman tayo sa gano’n eh, so parang ano, since it’s unidentified, then not a matter of life and death naman ‘yung object,” Tindog told the media. “Nag-decide na lang ‘yung ating team na ano, na bumalik na lang dun sa NSEL.”

[Translation: We exercise maximum tolerance in such instances, so since the object was unidentified and getting it was not a matter of life and death, the team decided to just go back to the NSEL.]

The Chinese embassy, however, denied that there was blocking involved. It also expressed gratitude towards the Philippine side.

“Before the China Coast Guard found the said floating object some Philippine Navy personnel already retrieved and towed it. After friendly consultation, the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side on the spot,” the embassy said.

“The Chinese side expressed gratitude to the Philippine side. There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene,” it added.

The Kalayaan Municipal Police Station early on reported that the NSEL members heard some “repetitive sounds” two hours after the incident, which they believed was coming from an artillery weapon on the Subi Reef, a low-tide elevation located in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The military said the incident was reported to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea for appropriate action. It added that it is up to the task force to decide whether or not the Philippines will file a diplomatic protest over the matter.

In an official statement, the local government of Kalayaan said the situation in the area is already “business as usual.”