The Philippines said on Nov.21 that the Chinese coast guard “forcefully retrieved” a floating object in the South China Sea, which was believed to be debris from a recent Chinese rocket launch.
Philippine Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said the Philippine Navy received a report at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday that a floating object was spotted drifting about 800 yards off the Philippine-controlled Pagasa Island.
He described the floating object as “metallic” and similar to fragments previously discovered on the Philippines’ Palawan Island, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
Carlos said the navy went to retrieve the floating object and began towing it with a boat when a Chinese coast guard vessel—identified as CCGV-5203—approached and twice blocked their course.
According to the commander, the Chinese boat then seized the object by cutting the towing line attached to the Philippines’ rubber boat and towing it back to the Chinese ship.
No injuries were reported as a result of the incident, Carlos said, and the information was reported to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea for appropriate action, he added.
Cherryl Tindog, the Philippine Western Command Armed Forces spokesperson, said the navy decided to return to Pagasa Island rather than resist the seizure because it was not a “life and death” situation.
China’s Foreign Ministry denied that its coast guard used force to retrieve the suspected rocket debris, saying that the Philippines handed over the object to the Chinese coast guard after “a friendly negotiation.”
“It was not a situation in which we waylaid and grabbed the object,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning claimed while speaking to reporters.
Earlier this month, the Philippine coast guard reported finding metallic debris in the waters off the Mindoro and Palawan Islands that appeared to be part of China’s Long March 5B rocket fairing.
“The debris will be in the custody and disposal of the Philippine government,” the Philippine coast guard said on Nov. 10.
U.S. Space Command said the Long March 5B rocket plunged in an uncontrolled manner back to Earth on Nov. 4, the fourth out-of-control reentry of a Chinese rocket since 2020, triggering concerns from the international space community.
“Once again, the People’s Republic of China is taking unnecessary risks with the uncontrolled rocket stage reentry of their Long March 5B rocket stage. They did not share specific trajectory information which is needed to predict landing zones and reduce risk,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
The repeated uncontrolled reentries are caused by the fact that the Long March 5B was designed by the Chinese without the necessary equipment to steer itself to ensure a safe landing.
In 2020, the Long March 5B rocket initiated its test launch, and debris from the rocket fell onto the Ivory Coast in western Africa. In 2021, remnants from the empty core stage of the Long March 5B crashed into the Indian Ocean.
In July 2022, debris from the core stage of Long March 5B fell in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Sophia Lam and Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times