PH: Shoal incident puts China sincerity in doubt

PH: Shoal incident puts China sincerity in doubt

This frame grab from aerial video footage taken and released on March 23, 2024 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shows a vessel described by the Philippine armed forces as a China Coast Guard ship (bottom R) deploying water cannon against the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 during its supply mission near the Second Thomas Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines accused the China Coast Guard of blocking and firing water cannon at a Filipino supply vessel on March 23 off a remote and contested South China Sea reef. (Photo by Handout / ARMED FORCES OF THE  / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / ARMED FORCES OF THE " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

This frame grab from aerial video footage taken and released on March 23, 2024 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shows a vessel described by the Philippine armed forces as a China Coast Guard ship (bottom R) deploying water cannon against the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 during its supply mission near the Second Thomas Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines accused the China Coast Guard of blocking and firing water cannon at a Filipino supply vessel on March 23 off a remote and contested South China Sea reef. (Photo by Handout / ARMED FORCES OF THE / AFP)

The Philippines has demanded anew that China immediately leave the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and other areas inside the Philippines’ maritime territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Foreign Undersecretary for bilateral relations and Asean affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro on Monday conveyed the Philippines’ “strongest protest” against the “aggressive actions” by the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese maritime militia in a phone call to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong.

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The Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) move was prompted by the CCG’s water cannon assault on a Philippine supply boat headed to Ayungin Shoal on March 23, causing injuries to at least three sailors onboard and heavy damage to the wooden vessel.

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Earlier this month, the DFA issued the same demand when it summoned Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong of the Chinese Embassy after a water cannon attack by the CCG on March 4 targeting a Philippine supply boat. Four Filipino crew members were injured in that attack. Also that day, a CCG ship collided with a Philippine Coast Guard ship.

The DFA said these incidents put into question China’s “sincerity in lowering the tensions” in the South China Sea.

The department also conveyed its protest to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Philippine Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

Foreign Deputy Assistant Secretary Raphael Hermoso relayed the protest to Zhou, who was summoned to the DFA.

“In these demarches, the Philippines stressed, among others, that China has no right to be in Ayungin Shoal,” the DFA pointed out.

The DFA said “China’s continued interference with the Philippines’ routine and lawful activities in its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was unacceptable” and “infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

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“The Philippines demands that Chinese vessels leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal and the Philippine [EEZ] immediately,” the DFA stressed.

This was the 14th diplomatic protest the Philippines filed against China this year and the 147th since President Marcos assumed office in June 2022, according to the DFA.

The Chinese Embassy, for its part, said it also made “representations” with the DFA over the “recent illegal trespassing” by Philippine resupply vessels into waters adjacent to Ren’ai Jiao, the Chinese name for Ayungin Shoal.

The Chinese Embassy had accused the Philippine resupply mission of transporting construction materials to Ayungin Shoal, where Philippine troops are stationed in the grounded BRP Sierra Madre warship.

Why not ‘arbitrate’?

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Monday also questioned China’s sincerity to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea as it continues to do otherwise.

“It is China that is intruding into our territory… No country in the world believes in their narrative. This is just their way of threatening the Philippines…Why are you threatening us?” Teodoro asked.

“They’re always saying through the media that they want peace, consultation and dialogue. If China is not afraid to state its claims to the world, then why don’t we arbitrate under international law?” he said.

Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation that lies within the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 international arbitral award, the DFA pointed out.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, overlapping its claims with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. Beijing continues to ignore the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims.

Teodoro also described as an “insult” China’s allegation that the Philippines’ foreign policy over the South China Sea dispute was being influenced by the United States and other countries.

“They are saying we are provoking them but we are not the ones blocking them in the West Philippine Sea, it’s them. So are we just going to sit back? We won’t do that,” Teodoro said.

Start maritime research

Sen. Grace Poe on Monday called on the Marcos administration to use all legal means to hold China accountable for its latest harassment.

“This uncivilized action should stop. We must hold the Chinese vessel responsible for the injury inflicted on our troops,” she said in a statement.

The senator said the March 23 incident near Ayungin Shoal only proved that Beijing’s actions were “geared to heighten the already tense situation” in the waters within the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ.

“While the Philippines continues to deal with the attacks in legal, legitimate and calm manner, we must also seek accountability,” she said.

For Sen. Francis Tolentino, the DFA should drum up international support for the country’s efforts to protect its territory by initiating partnerships with other coastal nations in conducting maritime research in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the department and other concerned agencies could enter into “joint exercises for peaceful marine science research and development” with countries that have no existing defense treaty with the Philippines.

READ: China’s chopper harasses PH researchers near Pag-asa

Among these countries, he said, are the Netherlands and Norway, which became one of the world’s leading oil exporters after developing oil fields in its sea regions.

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“We should involve not just… our regular allies in terms of defense agreements, but also nondefense allies concerned about peaceful resolutions in upholding the norms of international law,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND MELVIN GASCON INQ

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