The Philippines accused a Chinese vessel of ramming one of its boats causing it to sink, leaving the lives of the 22 on board the boat threatened. The fishermen who had been left stranded and endangered by the incident were saved by a Vietnamese fishing vessel at the sight of the crash in Recto bank near the Spratly Islands. Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in the aftermath of the clash in June: “We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew.”
China‘s government remained silent on the issue, but protests erupted in the Philippines as citizens demanded the country defends its sovereignty claims over the Spratly Islands.
A group of fishermen who joined the protest demanded that Chinese vessels immediately withdraw from the disputed area, while also calling on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to take a firmer stance against China’s aggression in the South China Sea.
Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the Spratly Islands with man made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes.
The moving of its aircraft carriers, airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”
A leaked set of photos given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate China’s development of military bases has been.
Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.
Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.
President Duterte has found support from the US, who have placed military in the Philippines to make its force’s presence in the region known to China.
In 2016, the US reached an agreement with the Philippines to build five military installations located throughout the country.
The base which infuriated Beijing more than any other was the Antonio Bautista Air Base on western Palawan island, which faces the hotly disputed Spratly islands directly.
In November, the US sailed its combat ship Gabrielle Giffords within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, located in the Spratly chain and claimed by China.