BEIJING has denied that a Chinese Coast Guard ship crew forcibly took a rocket debris from Philippine Navy personnel off Pag-Asa Island in the disputed West Philippine Sea yesterday (Sunday).
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters that a “friendly consultation” ensued between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila provided a transcript of the briefing to Philippine media:
“At around 8:00 am on November 20 a China Coast Guard ship found an unidentified floating object in the waters off the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, which was later identified as the wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by China.
“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 Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom) and the Kalayaan municipality had earlier confirmed reports that the Philippine Navy and Chinese Coast Guard had a sea alternation Sunday morning over possession of a rocket debris that fell from the sky. Personnel from the Naval Station Emilio Liwanag, based in Pagasa Island, got hold of the metallic debris drifting near a sandbar off Pagasa.
As the Navy rubber boat was on its way back to the station in Pagasa, a Chinese Coast Guard boat quickly came and blocked their path. The Philippine and Chinese sides engaged in a verbal tussle. The Chinese sailors then cut the rope and disentangled the rocket from Philippine Navy boat. The Chinese vessel team took the debris.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement was silent on reports of series of explosions.
The spokesperson said China “expressed gratitude” to the Philippine government.
“There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene,” Mao said.