Philippines denounces China for ‘unprovoked acts of coercion’ to block resupply mission

November 10, 2023 - 1:12 PM
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A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014. (Reuters/Erik De Castro/File Photo/File Photo)

The Philippines on Friday condemned China’s coast guard for “unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers,” including its use of a water cannon against one of its boats in an attempt to disrupt a resupply mission in the South China Sea.

China’s actions, the Philippines said, have not only “put the lives of our people at risk,” but have “put into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue”.

The regular resupply missions support the Philippines’ troops stationed in an intentionally grounded dilapidated warship on Second Thomas Shoal, a hotly disputed atoll in the South China Sea that Manila calls Ayungin and is known as Renai Reef in China.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which includes the Second Thomas Shoal, and has deployed hundreds of vessels to patrol there, including what Manila refers to as “Chinese maritime militia”, which it said were involved in the latest attempt to obstruct the resupply mission.

China’s foreign ministry opposes actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and interests and has lodged solemn representations with the Philippine embassy, its spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday at a regular press conference.

China’s coast guard said two small Philippine transport ships and three coast guard ships entered the waters without the permission of the Chinese government and urged the Philippines to stop infringing on Beijing’s sovereignty.

It said in a statement its actions were lawful and it has and made temporary special arrangements for the Philippine side to transport food and other necessary daily necessities.

The Philippines’ government said the resupply mission was completed, even as its boats were “subjected to extremely reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity” by the Chinese coast guard’s inflatable boats inside the shoal.

For years, Manila and Beijing have been embroiled in on-off confrontations at the Second Thomas Shoal as China has become more assertive in pressing its maritime claims, alarming rival claimants and other states operating in the South China Sea, including the United States and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during his visit to Manila on Saturday that his country, the Philippines and the United States were cooperating to protect the freedom of the South China Sea.

On Thursday, the Philippines said it was acquiring five 97-metre (318.24-ft) multi-role response vessels to strengthen the capabilities of its coast guard and the 29.3 billion pesos ($523.96 million) project would be funded by Official Development Assistance loans from Japan.

Both Japan and Washington have their support behind a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, that said Beijing’s expansive claims had no legal basis, delivering a historic legal victory for the Philippines. Under the ruling, the shoal is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China’s use of water cannons followed a series of incidents in the South China Sea, including the collisions between China’s vessels and two Manila ships on Oct. 22. The Philippines accused China coastguard of “intentionally” colliding with its vessels.

($1 = 55.9200 Philippine pesos)

— Reporting by Beijing newsroom, and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Writing by Bernard Orr; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle and Christina Fincher