Philippines summons Chinese envoy over water-cannon incident in disputed waters

BenarNews staff
Philippines summons Chinese envoy over water-cannon incident in disputed waters Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela (left), joined by National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya, and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar, speaks to reporters about the nation’s response to the China Coast Guard’s actions in the South China Sea on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2023.
Ezra Acayan/pool via Reuters

A war of words heated up Monday as Manila summoned Beijing’s ambassador to complain about the China Coast Guard firing water cannon at a Philippine Coast Guard ship while it escorted a civilian convoy in the South China Sea.

In response, the Chinese government reiterated its demand that the Philippines remove the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusty World War II-era naval ship that Manila deliberately ran aground in the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in 1999 to serve as a military outpost in those contested waters.

A convoy of Philippine ships was on a mission Saturday to deliver food, water, fuel and other supplies to troops stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre when the incident occurred near the shoal.

While meeting with the Chinese envoy on Monday morning, Manila conveyed “the strong protest of the Philippine government to the blocking and water cannon operation by the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels against Philippine indigenous boats,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ma. Teresa Daza told reporters.

The Philippine convoy was “conducting [a] regular rotation and resupply” mission to Ayungin Shoal, she said.

The Philippine government also expressed disappointment that it was not able to reach China’s foreign ministry through a hotline established between the countries earlier this year to improve communication during incidents related to the South China Sea, she said.

The incident, which lasted more than an hour, was the latest in a growing number of perceived aggressive actions by China in the South China Sea, an important maritime trade route subject to overlapping territorial claims from China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China asserts sovereignty over most of the sea and has for years militarized artificial islands while deploying coast guard boats, navy ships and a state-backed maritime militia around disputed areas.

Daza said Ayungin Shoal was well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as recognized in a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration court.

China’s dangerous maneuvers breached international maritime law by restricting the Philippine ships’ navigational path, thereby increasing the risk of collision, she said.

The foreign ministry “firmly asked” China to “direct its vessels to stop their illegal actions against Philippine vessels, and to stop interfering in legitimate Philippine government activities while complying with relevant international laws,” according to Daza.

In Beijing, the foreign ministry claimed the shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao, had always belonged to China. 

“In 1999, the Philippines sent a military vessel and deliberately ran it aground at Ren’ai Jiao, attempting to change the status quo of Ren’ai Jiao illegally. China immediately made serious démarches to the Philippines, demanding the removal of the vessel,” a ministry spokesman said Monday.  

“The Philippines promised several times to tow it away, but has yet to act. Not only that, the Philippines sought to overhaul and reinforce the military vessel in order to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao.”

As for Saturday’s confrontation at sea, “such actions violated China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” the spokesman said. “The China Coast Guard vessels stopped them in accordance with law and warned them off through appropriate law enforcement measures. Their maneuvers were professional, restrained and beyond reproach.” 

‘Dangerous and unlawful’

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ ambassador to China delivered a diplomatic protest in Beijing on Monday morning.

The Philippines since 2020 has sent 445 diplomatic protests to China relating to occupation or harassment in the South China Sea, Daza said. A total of 35 have been sent since Jan. 1.

On Monday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called a command meeting with the coast guard and military to discuss the fresh incident.  

“We continue to assert our sovereignty, we continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all these challenges,” Marcos told reporters on the sidelines of a Philippine Army event.

Jonathan Malaya, spokesman for a Philippine task force on the South China Sea, characterized the Chinese action on Saturday near Ayungin Shoal as “aggressive, dangerous and unlawful.”  

At one point, he said, one of the six China Coast Guard ships came within 20 yards (18.3 meters) as it blocked the path of a Philippine boat, officials said.

“The Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese militia vessels have no right whatsoever to place a blockade or impede, or otherwise control, the movement of the Philippine Coast Guard in Ayungin Shoal or anywhere else in the West Philippine Sea, especially when they are undertaking a mission to resupply our troops stationed there,” Malaya told a press briefing.

While one Philippine supply boat was blocked, another was able to break through and successfully delivered some of the supplies, Malaya said.

Only weeks earlier, the Philippine Coast Guard had accused its Chinese counterpart of dangerous maneuvers that, the Filipino side alleged, could have caused a collision during a similar resupply mission. 

Two China Coast Guard ships intercepted Philippine patrol boats and “exhibited aggressive tactics” and at one point, the Chinese ship came to just 50 yards of a Philippine ship.

Camille Elemia in Manila contributed to this report.


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