Philippines summons China envoy to protest ‘aggressive actions’ in South China Sea

Chinese water cannon blasts hurt three Filipino crew members and caused damage to a Philippine vessel, Manila says.
By BenarNews Staff
2024.03.25
Manila, Philippines
Philippines summons China envoy to protest ‘aggressive actions’ in South China Sea A Chinese Navy vessel shadows a Philippine patrol boat while on its way to Pag-Asa island in the South China Sea on March 19, 2024. Pag-asa is the largest island in the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan Island group, a chain in the contested Spratly Islands.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Updated on March 25 at 3:18 pm ET.

Manila on Monday summoned a Chinese envoy to strongly protest the “aggressive actions” of the China Coast Guard in the South China Sea, following an incident that left three crew members aboard a Philippine supply boat injured.

The Philippines was on Saturday attempting to resupply troops stationed on a ship at Second Thomas Shoal, known locally as Ayungin Shoal, when China’s coast guard and maritime militia “harassed, blocked, deployed water cannons, and executed dangerous maneuvers against the routine RoRe [rotation and resupply] mission,” officials said.

Chinese water cannon blasts hurt three Filipino crew members and caused “significant damages to the vessel,” the Philippine Coast Guard said.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy this morning to convey the Philippines’ strong protest against the aggressive actions undertaken by the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia against the rotation and resupply mission undertaken by the Philippines in Ayungin Shoal on 23 March 2024,” Ma. Teresita Daza, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement. 

China “has no right to be in Ayungin Shoal,” she said, a low-tide elevation that lies well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“China’s continued interference with the Philippines’ routine and lawful activities in its own exclusive economic zone is unacceptable,” said Daza.

Saturday’s incident was the second time this month that Philippine crew members were injured in a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine ships in the disputed South China Sea.

Tense incidents at sea have become more frequent lately, as Chinese ships try to block Philippine ships and boats from delivering supplies to Manila’s military outpost there. 

The Philippines in 1999 deliberately grounded an old navy ship on the shoal – BRP Sierra Madre – where it maintains a detachment of troops.

Four crew members aboard a military-contracted Philippine ship sustained minor injuries when a water cannon blast from China Coast Guard ships shattered the windshield on the bridge during the incident on March 5, according to Filipino officials.

“The Philippines urges China to take the correct track of abiding by international law and respecting the legitimate rights of other states like the Philippines, and to cease and desist from its continued violation of international law,” Daza said, adding the Philippine embassy in Beijing had also been instructed to lodge a protest with China’s foreign ministry. 

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including Second Thomas Shoal that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have territorial claims to the sea.

A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague dismissed China’s sweeping historical claims to the waterway, but Beijing has refused to acknowledge the ruling. 

image.jpeg
A vessel described as a China Coast Guard ship, left, uses a water cannon on a Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 near the Second Thomas Shoal on March 23, 2024. (Armed Forces of the Philippines/AFP)

On Monday, China’s embassy in Manila said it had communicated its “strong opposition” to the Philippine government, which it accused of attempting to transport construction materials to the shoal – a claim that Manila has denied. 

“The China Coast Guard in response has implemented lawful regulation, interception, and expulsion in a reasonable and professional manner,” the embassy said in a statement.

It added that the international arbitration award in 2016 was illegal and therefore “null and void.”

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro on Monday urged Beijing to take its claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea to international arbitration.

“If China is not afraid to state its claims to the world, then why don’t we arbitrate under international law?” Teodoro told reporters, adding Manila would not budge on its position.

“They are the ones who entered our territory. No country believes [their claims] and they see this as their way to use force, intimidate and bend the Philippines to their ambitions.”

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiadong, who was appointed to the job last week, conveyed some strong words to his Philippine counterpart during a phone call.“China once again urges the Philippines to honor its commitments and consensus, stop its maritime abuses and provocations, stop any unilateral actions that may complicate the situation, and earnestly return to the right track of properly handling differences through dialogue and consultation with China,” Chen told Ma. Theresa Lazaro, the Philippine undersecretary for foreign affairs, according to a statement issued on Monday by the Chinese foreign ministry.

Washington condemned China’s most recent actions as “dangerous” and said they “undermine regional stability but also display a blatant disregard for international law.”

“[The] People’s Republic of China (PRC) ships’ repeated employment of water cannons and reckless blocking maneuvers resulted in injuries to Filipino service members and significant damage to their resupply vessel, rendering it immobile,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales reported from Manila.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

Updates with comment from Chinese vice foreign minister.

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