The Philippines and China are grappling over the recovery of Chinese missile debris floating in the disputed waters of the South China Sea

Hong Kong

The Philippines and China got into a dispute on Sunday over Chinese missile debris in the disputed South China Sea, raising tensions ahead of a scheduled visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris.

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, the Philippine vice admiral, said a Chinese ship intercepted a Philippine navy boat twice before it moved the debris it was hauling off Thito Island, which is occupied by the Philippines and known locally as Pag Asa Island.

In a statement released Monday, Carlos said the Chinese coast guard “forcibly pulled” the floating debris out of the water. He said local staff using a long-range camera spotted the wreckage about 800 yards from a sand bar on Sunday and went to check it out.

The Philippine state news agency PNA reported that the debris was described as “metallic” and similar to shrapnel found in other parts of the country two weeks ago, raising suspicions that it originated from a recent Chinese missile launch.

Speaking at a regular press conference on Monday, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Chinese maritime police ships found an unidentified floating object in the disputed waters on Sunday.

Mao denied any confrontation, telling reporters, “There was no so-called interception and seizure at the scene.”

After identifying it as a missile debris recently launched by China, the local staff first salvaged the floating object and towed it. After friendly negotiations between the two sides, the Philippine side immediately returned the floating object to the Chinese side, and the Chinese staff expressed their gratitude to the Philippine side.

The incident was reported on Sunday, the day before Harris’ scheduled visit to the western province of Palawan where the Philippine military command is responsible for defending and patrolling its waters on the edge of the South China Sea.

This is not the first time that Chinese space debris has been found near the Philippines. The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) said in a statement on November 9 that debris found at two different locations off the waters of Palawan and Occidental Mindoro may have come from a Long March 5B rocket launched by China in late October.

“In connection with this, PhilSA would like to reiterate its ongoing efforts to promote and encourage accountability among nations for objects launched into space,” the statement said.

China has been repeatedly criticized for allowing rocket stages to return uncontrolled to Earth, with NASA last year accusing Beijing of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding space debris” after parts of a Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean.

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