By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter
THE PHILIPPINES on Tuesday filed a diplomatic protest against China after accusing it of trying to block a resupply ship at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had filed the protest before the Chinese Embassy in Manila as it condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s dangerous maneuvers and alleged harassment of Philippine Coast Guard crew on Feb. 6.
The Chinese Coast Guard endangering the crew of BRP Malapascua by shining a military-grade laser light on the Philippine ship was a “threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state,” the agency said. The Chinese acts were “infringements of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone.”
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. summoned Ambassador Huang Xilian “to express his serious concern over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen in their bancas,” the presidential palace said in a separate statement.
“The Philippines has the prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” DFA said. “China does not have law enforcement rights or powers in and around Ayungin Shoal or any part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza said.
She described the use of the laser as “disturbing and disappointing,” noting that it came just a month after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping “agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation.”
A China Coast Guard vessel had tried to blind the crew of BRP Malapascua shining a laser light at the ship, putting them in danger, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Monday.
Philippine lawmakers condemned the act and sought more joint patrols and international pressure to stop Chinese excursions.
The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Philippines claims sovereignty over the shoal in the Spratly Islands that it calls Ayungin, having deliberately grounded the Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre — a World War II -era vessel it acquired from the United States in 1976 — there in 1999.
Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Southeast Asian Nation’s exclusive economic zone.
As BRP Malapascua reached a 10-nautical mile distance from the shoal, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel was seen about 4 nautical miles dead ahead, maneuvering from the Philippine ships’s left side and heading toward its right side.
“The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge,” the Philippine Coast Guard said. “The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter.”
The Philippine vessel altered its course from Second Thomas Shoal and headed toward Lawak Island (Nanshan).
“We call on China to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 award in the South China Sea arbitration and direct its vessels to cease and desist from its aggressive activities against Philippine vessels,” Ms. Daza said.
She was referring to the 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea based on a 1940s map.
Manila has sent eight note verbales to Beijing this year and 195 in 2022, Ms. Daza told reporters in a WhatsApp message.
In response, China accused the Philippines of intruding into its waters. “On Feb. 6, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel intruded into the waters off the Ren’ai Reef (Second Thomas Shoal) without Chinese permission,” Wang Wenbin, spokesman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told media, according to a transcript posted on its website.
“In accordance with China’s domestic law and international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the China Coast Guard ship upheld China’s sovereignty and maritime order and acted in a professional and restrained way,” he added.
China demanded respect, telling the Philippines to “avoid taking any actions that may exacerbate disputes and complicate the situation.”
The United States, on the other hand, called China’s conduct “provocative and unsafe,” saying it had interfered with the Philippines’ lawful operations at the shoal.
“More broadly, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” US Department of State spokesman Edward “Ned” Price said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.
“As reflected in an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in July 2016, the People’s Republic of China has no lawful maritime claims to Second Thomas Shoal,” he added. “We call upon the PRC to abide by the ruling.”
Mr. Price reiterated that an armed attack on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea would trigger a 71-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft, including those of the coast guard in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel in a statement said the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was lying.
It is clearer than the light of day that Ayungin Shoal is a Philippine territory,” she said in Filipino. “It’s not China’s. Ayungin is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”
“The UNCLOS affirms this. The wider international community recognizes this. It is only China’s authoritarian government that seems to think otherwise,” she added.
Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito urged the Marcos government to fast-track the modernization of the country’s armed forces and strengthen its defense posture.
“Given these recent incursions, we need to put up a naval force that can project a more respectable presence in the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a statement. “This is the best time for us to work with our regional neighbors and defense partners in countering China’s aggression.”