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Monday, July 15, 2024

PH summons China envoy

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PBBM: DFA fires off note verbale to protest latest WPS mess

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned Beijing’s envoy Monday to protest the use of water cannons and dangerous maneuvers against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said.

“Our secretary of Foreign Affairs summoned Ambassador Huang (Xilian) today and gave him a note verbale including pictures (and) video about what happened and we are awaiting their reply,” Mr. Marcos told reporters.

“The position of China, of course, is they say ‘this is ours so we are defending it’ and we, for our part, are saying ‘no, we own it so we are defending it’. So that becomes a gray area that we are discussing.”

ANATOMY OF A BLOCKADE. These screengrabs of videos shared by the Philippine Coast Guard to the media on Monday show the path of the PH contingent’s resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, which the PCG said Chinese maritime militia had already prepared to block as early as August 4, or 3 days prior to the trip. The Chinese ships – at least eight of them, according to the PCG — then immediately tailed the Filipino boats. They used a powerful water cannon on an ‘indigenous bout’ carrying supplies (as caught by a drone camera), while the others either blocked or came dangerously close to the PH vessels. The second supply ship managed to escape the naval blockade and deliver its cargo to Ayungin Shoal and BRP Sierra Madre.

But Beijing claimed it took “necessary controls” against Philippine boats that “illegally” entered its waters.

“Two repair ships and two coast guard ships from the Philippines illegally broke into the waters… in China’s Nansha Islands,” China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said, adding that Beijing had “implemented necessary controls in accordance with the law and stopped Philippine ships carrying illegal building materials.”

But officials in China could not be reached during the “critical hours” when the Philippines tried to use the hotline between the two countries after the Chinese coast guard trained a water cannon at Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea, DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said.

“During the summon, the Philippines through the DFA expressed disappointment that the DFA was unable to reach its counterpart to the maritime communication mechanism for several hours while the incident was occurring,” Daza said in a joint media briefing that included representatives from the Defense Department, National Security Council, and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Monday supported the President’s decision to consult military leaders after the illegal use of water cannons on PCG and civilian vessels.

“The President made the right decision to get the consensus of officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on how best the government can address the latest incident in the West Philippine Sea,” Romualdez, head of the 312-member House of Representatives, said in commending the President’s course of action.

The Chinese ambassador met on Monday morning with senior DFA diplomats, who conveyed Manila’s deep concern over the incident and emphasized that China’s actions violated international law.

The incident happened Saturday as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) escorted charter boats carrying food, water, fuel, and other supplies for Filipino soldiers stationed at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually. It has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

The Philippine military and coast guard have accused the China Coast Guard of breaking international law in using as many as eight CCG, Chinese Navy, and maritime militia ships in blocking and firing water cannons at the resupply mission, which prevented one of the charter boats from reaching the shoal.

Another charter boat managed to squeeze through the blockade and was successful in unloading its cargo, video supplied by the PCG and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri showed.

China said it had taken “necessary controls” against Philippine boats that had “illegally” entered its waters.

The US State Department on Sunday condemned the Chinese actions, saying they were carried out by the coast guard and “maritime militia,” and that they directly threatened regional peace and stability.

Britain, Australia, Canada, and the European Union also criticized Beijing’s actions.

On Monday, the United Kingdom joined the United States and other foreign governments in calling out China for its actions in Ayungin Shoal.

“The UK is concerned by reports of unsafe conduct towards (Philippine) vessels in a recent incident in the South China Sea. Such action poses serious risks to regional peace and stability,” the British Embassy in Manila said in a Twitter post.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines David Bruce Hartman said Canada “unreservedly condemns the dangerous and provocative actions taken by the Chinese Coast Guard against Philippine vessels on August 5th, in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.”

Calling them “reckless actions,” the envoy said Canada was “in full solidarity with the Philippines in upholding the rules-based international order.”

“Unsafe maneuvers and use of water cannons to disrupt the lawful operations of Philippine vessels is unacceptable, and inconsistent with the obligations of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under international law,” he added.

By continuing what he called “acts of intimidation and coercion,” China is undermining “safety, security, and stability across the region, and raising the risks of grave miscalculation.”

The ambassador expressed support for the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling that invalidated the basis of China’s sweeping claims in the resource-rich region, and called on Beijing “to comply with its obligations under international law.”

A Philippine naval 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.

Ayungin Shoal is about 200 kilometers from Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass of Hainan Island.

China’s coast guard and navy vessels routinely block or shadow Philippine ships patrolling the contested waters, Manila says.

The Philippines has issued more than 400 diplomatic protests to Beijing since 2020 over its “illegal activities” in the South China Sea, the foreign ministry said.

“For the record, we will never abandon Ayungin Shoal. We are committed to Ayungin Shoal,” National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya told reporters Monday, using the Philippine name for Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

“In fact, if we wish to speculate, they are probably looking for weaknesses in the Philippine position or trying to gauge our commitment to supply troops on the shoal,” he added.

At the same press conference, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar scored China’s “order” for the Philippines to tow away the BRP Sierra Madre.

“Who is the China Coast Guard to tell us what to do?” he said.

He said the AFP would continue to resupply the troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre.

DFA spokesperson Ambassador Ma. Teresita Daza added: “It’s important for the Philippines to continually assert what is rightfully ours. The policy of this government is very clear, not one inch of our territory should be handed over to China.”

Daza also supported the AFP statement that “China has no right or legal basis to prevent us from exercising such sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

Earlier, President Marcos called for a command conference with his top military brass, defense, and security officials to come up with a comprehensive action to respond to China’s “dangerous and illegal” actions.

Saturday’s incident was the first time since November 2021 that the Chinese coast guard had used a water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

“The Philippines condemns in the strongest terms the latest incident of harassment perpetrated by China Coast Guard, People’s Liberation Army Navy, and Chinese maritime militia vessels,” said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which includes representatives of various government agencies.

“As a low tide elevation, Ayungin shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law,” the task force said in a statement.

Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes over the South China Sea.

However, former President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in power from 2016 to 2022, was reluctant to criticize his more powerful neighbor as he sought closer ties with Beijing in the hope of attracting investments.

Mr. Marcos has insisted since succeeding Duterte that he will not let China trample on the country’s maritime rights.

Unlike Duterte who shunned and insulted the Americans, Mr. Marcos has gravitated towards the United States, seeking to strengthen defense ties with the country’s longtime ally. With AFP

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