China's President Xi Jinping told leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbors, two weeks after Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannons at Filipino boats inside Philippine waters.
In the face of Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in the South China Sea, Xi told the ASEAN-China summit “we must jointly maintain the stability of the South China Sea and build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.”
But Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and said it would work with ASEAN to eliminate “interference.”
“China was, is, and will always be a good neighbor, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying.
In the Nov. 6 incident, China insisted that its Coast Guard was upholding its sovereignty over the maritime waters when it sought to stop Filipino boats from resupplying a military contingent in Ayungin Shoal.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed the Philippines boats were in the wrong as they had no permission to enter the area on Nov. 16, Tuesday.
But Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. expressed “outrage, condemnation and protest” to Beijing over the incident as the Philippine boats were traveling to Second Thomas Shoal in the contested Spratly Islands.
“Fortunately, no one was hurt; but our boats had to abort their resupply mission,” Locsin said in a statement on Twitter, describing the three Chinese vessels’ actions as “illegal.”
Vice President Leni Robredo, during a meeting with retired military generals, said the aggression must not happen again.
“This kind of treatment of Filipinos must stop. WPS [West Philippine Sea] is ours as the arbitration tribunal ruled in July 2016,” Robredo said in a statement.
“Our resupply vessels have been harassed again. Filipinos cannot be treated in such a demeaning manner. Our win in the arbitral tribunal already provides us the tool we need to protect the areas that belong to us,” she added.
Former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said the incident was “an affront to Philippine sovereign rights over its continental shelf.”
“The arbitral tribunal ruled it unequivocally as part of the Philippine continental shelf which is not subject to territorial claim by any other country. Being not susceptible to a territorial claim by any other country, there can be no territorial dispute on the same. Only the Philippines has the exclusive sovereign rights over its continental shelf, including Ayungin shoal,” he said.