Philippines tells China it will not abandon post in disputed reef

August 8, 2023 - 9:21 AM
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This April 23, 2023 photo shows CCGV 5201 dangerous manuvering and shadowing starboard beam going to 100 yards dead ahead of MRRV 4403 in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal. (Philippine Coast Guard/Facebook)

 The Philippines told China it will not abandon a disputed shoal in the South China Sea after it accused China’s coast guard of using water cannons and “dangerous” moves to prevent Manila from sending supplies to its troops occupying the reef.

Likening the Aug. 5 incident to a “David vs Goliath situation”, Jonathan Malaya, a senior Philippine National Security Council (NSC) official said China’s increased presence at the Second Thomas Shoal will not deter the Philippines’ resolve to protect its position there.

“We will never abandon Ayungin Shoal,” Malaya said, using its local name, as he dismissed China’s call for Manila to remove its warship from the atoll, which was intentionally grounded in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ sovereignty claims.

“We will continue to resupply troops in the grounded vessel as long as it takes,” Malaya said in a joint news conference with the military, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and foreign ministry.

“It is our right to bring what is necessary to maintain the station and to be sure that our troops there are properly provisioned.”

China said it had earlier told Manila not to send ships to the shoal and not to send “construction materials used for large-scale repair and reinforcement” to the warship after it learned of this recent supply plan, the Chinese coast guard said in a statement on Monday.

China’s Foreign Ministry said that the Philippines’ move violated China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It said the vessel was stopped in “accordance with the law.”

It detailed a statement from the U.S. State department on the issue, which it said attacked China’s legitimate maritime rights protection and law enforcement actions and endorsed the Philippines’ “illegal provocative behavior, which China firmly opposes.”

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, an assertion rejected internationally, while Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have various claims to certain areas.

The Chinese Coast Guard’s use of water cannons on Saturday was not the first, as it also sprayed water at Manila’s boats on a mission to supply food and water, for a handful of troops living aboard the rusty warship on Nov. 2021.

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China’s latest actions, which the Philippine military described as “excessive”, undermine efforts to strengthen trust between Manila and Beijing, and underlines the “dire need” for a code of conduct, the foreign ministry’s spokesperson said.

Ties between the Philippines and China have grown tense under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, with Manila pivoting back to its traditional ally, the United States, which has expressed its support for Manila and accused China of “threatening regional peace and stability.”

Marcos said his country had relayed its complaint to the Chinese Ambassador in Manila, whom the foreign ministry had summoned.

No one was hurt during the Aug. 5 incident at the shoal, but one of the two Philippine boats, which were transporting supplies, failed to complete its mission.

—Reporting by Albee Zhang in Beijing and the Beijing newsroom, Farah Master in Hong Kong and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Sharon Singleton

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