The United States has rallied behind the Philippines’ protests against provocative Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, particularly blocking delivery of supplies to troops stationed in the disputed islands and deploying some 200 militia vessels to swarm a reef within the country’s territorial waters.
“We share the Philippines’ concerns regarding the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) provocative actions interfering with Philippine sovereign rights within the Philippine exclusive economic zone near Second Thomas Shoal and massing vessels near Whitsun Reef,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on June 17.
“The United States supports the Philippines in calling on the PRC to end its provocative actions and to respect international law in the South China Sea,” the document stated.
Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) accused China of illegal fishing and preventing Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) by using fishing nets and buoys.
A Philippine Navy vessel— the BRP Sierra Madre—has been grounded at Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory. It is 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In another reef, at least 200 Chinese militia vessels were sighted around Julian Felipe, also known as Whitsun Reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Price said China’s recent actions “are part of a broader trend of PRC provocations against South China Sea claimants and other states lawfully operating in the region.”
China, which considers nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea, including areas within the West Philippine Sea, as part of its territory, has denied any wrongdoing.
Although Washington is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waters where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
The Philippines maintains a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, which binds the two allies to come to each other’s aid in case of foreign aggression.
“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in upholding the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as guaranteed under international law,” Price said.