MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines on Monday accused Chinese coast guard vessels of “intentionally” colliding with its ships during a resupply mission in a disputed part of the South China Sea as relations between the U.S. ally in Southeast Asia and Beijing deteriorate.
The two sides traded accusations after the latest incident on Sunday, which was the most serious to date in the waters surrounding the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, although no one was hurt.
China said on Sunday that Philippine boats “seriously collided” with coast guard vessels and “Chinese fishing vessels” fishing there.
China’s embassy in Manila said on Monday that it had made stern representations to the Philippines over the “overreach” of its ships, and called on the Philippine government to stop “causing disturbances and provocations” at sea and to stop discrediting China through “groundless attacks.” .
Officials from the Philippine National Security Council, Coast Guard, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Defense and Armed Forces condemned the actions of the Chinese Coast Guard.
The United States, standing alongside its ally, officially expressed its concern. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the US statement ignored the facts.
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a press conference that “Coast Guard vessels and Chinese maritime militia, in flagrant violation of international law, deliberately harassed and damaged” the supply boat and Coast Guard ship in Manila.
“This is a serious escalation of the illegal activities carried out by the Chinese government in the West Philippine Sea in complete disregard for any rule or convention of international law,” Teodoro said after attending a security meeting called by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Teodoro also acknowledged “the support of our allies and like-minded countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union in condemning China’s aggression and expansionist actions.”
He added that the Foreign Ministry summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian “to condemn the reckless and illegal action of the Chinese government.”
Since Marcos came to power in 2022, the Philippines has sought closer ties with its traditional ally the United States, while making increasing complaints about China’s aggressive behavior.
In contrast to the more pro-China stance taken by the previous administration, the Marcos government lodged 122 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
These incidents included attempts to prevent Philippine resupply missions and the use of water cannons on 5 August
Regular resupply missions are reserved for a handful of Filipino troops living aboard an old warship that ran aground on the Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s claims to sovereignty.
The uninhabited shoal, known in Manila as Ayongin and Renai Reef in China, lies within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and is strategically located on one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
Medel Aguilar, a spokesman for the Philippine military, said Sunday’s incident was the first time Chinese ships had resorted to colliding with resupply boats.
One photo released by the Philippine Coast Guard on Sunday showed three of four boats participating in the resupply mission surrounded by seven larger ships of the Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia.
China on Sunday described the actions taken by its coast guard vessels as “professional and disciplined” and said the Philippine vessels had “intruded into Renai waters.”
But Teodoro said that “China has no jurisdiction, authority or right to conduct any operations whatsoever” in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded in 2016 that Beijing’s expansive claim to the South China Sea was baseless. China insists it does not accept any claim or action based on the ruling.
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz and Karen Lima – Preparing by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) (Additional reporting by Ethan Wang and Liz Li in Beijing – Preparing by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Gerry Doyle and Simon Cameron-Moore
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