Phl-China tension rises in South China Sea; U.S. condemns PRC’s provocation

China Coast Guard vessels use water cannons on the Philippine Navy-operated, civilian chartered resupply boat Unaizah May 4 during its resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal | Screenshot from Philippine Coast Guard video

MANILA, Philippines – The United States issued a statement today supporting the Philippines in the South China Sea after tension flared in Ayungin Shoal involving the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG).

“The United States stands with our ally the Philippines following the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) provocative actions against lawful Philippine maritime operations in the South China Sea on March 5,” the statement said. “We condemn the PRC’s repeated obstruction of Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and its disruption of supply lines to this longstanding outpost.”

It accused the PRC of its ships employing dangerous maneuvers and water cannons against Philippine vessels. “The PRC’s actions again show disregard for the safety and livelihoods of Filipinos and international law,” reminding PRC has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal, and Second, Thomas Shoal is a low tide feature within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone following an international tribunal’s legally binding decision in July 2016.

BRP Silangan, a Philippine Navy ship, was supporting a resupplying mission for troops on the RRP Sierra Madre when a CCG ship tried to block it, resulting in four Filipinos being injured. According to Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman for West Philippine Sea affairs Commodore Jay Tarriela, the reckless and illegal actions by the CCG vessels led to a collision between MRRV-4407 (BRP Sindangan) and China Coast Guard 21555 that resulted in minor structural damage to the PCG vessel,” he added.

The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the “unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers” of the Chinese vessels led to one of them slightly hitting the Unaizah May 4, shattering its windshield.

Added the NTF-WPS, “CCG and militia vessels “harassed, blocked, deployed water cannons, and executed dangerous in another attempt to illegally impede or obstruct a routine RORE (rotation and resupply) mission to BRP Sierra Madre (LS 57) at Ayungin Shoal.”

However, PRC’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao King, blamed the Philippines for the incidents and denied that “there is no such situation of China harassing the Philippines,” adding the “Philippines has frequently made provocative moves in the South China Sea, infringing on China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

The U.S. said, “the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines,” and it “called upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct.”

The U.S. reaffirmed “Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, (which) extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.”

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