The Philippines accused China’s coast guard of obstructing and water-cannoning a Philippine military supply vessel in the South China Sea on Sunday, condemning the “excessive and offensive actions” against its warships.
China claims sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea, a position that has been widely rejected by the international community, while Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines all have competing claims in various parts.
Beijing often irks its neighbours with maritime actions they call aggressive and with longer-term activities like building islands on reefs and equipping them with missiles and runways.
A Chinese coast guard vessel on Saturday blocked and water-cannoned the chartered Philippine boat on a routine troop rotation and resupply mission, “in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board and in violation of international law”, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.
It said in a statement the incident occurred near the Second Thomas Shoal, which Manila calls Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef where a handful of its troops live on a rusty World War Two-era U.S. ship that was intentionally grounded in 1999.
The Chinese coast guard’s “dangerous manoeuvres” prevented a second boat from unloading the supplies and completing the mission, it said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We call on the China Coast Guard and the Central Military Commission to act with prudence and be responsible in their actions to prevent miscalculations and accidents that will endanger peoples’ lives,” the armed forces said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said the Chinese actions violated laws including two international conventions and a ruling from a global tribunal.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded in 2016 that Beijing’s expansive claim to the South China Sea was groundless. China maintains it does not accept any claim or action based on the ruling.
The Philippine Coast Guard “calls on the China Coast Guard to restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident”, said a spokesman, Commodore Jay Tarriela.
After the incident, the U.S. State Department said China’s “repeated threats to the status quo in the South China Sea (were) directly threatening regional peace and stability” and that Washington stands with its Philippine allies in the face of such “dangerous actions”.
“The United States reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces – including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea – would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” it said in a statement.