July 17, 2024

Philippines summons Chinese envoy over ‘aggressive actions’ near reef

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The Philippines lodged a formal protest on Monday, summoning a Chinese envoy to address what it described as “aggressive actions” conducted by the China Coast Guard and other vessels in close proximity to a reef off the Southeast Asian country’s coast.

This move follows a complaint filed by Beijing concerning the same incident. Tensions between Beijing and Manila have a longstanding history, especially concerning maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, with recurrent confrontations near disputed reefs in recent months.

The latest incident unfolded on Saturday near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, coinciding with a routine Philippine mission aimed at replenishing Filipino troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a navy ship grounded in the area. The Philippines reported that the China Coast Guard obstructed its supply vessel and inflicted damage using water cannon, resulting in injuries to three soldiers.

The China Coast Guard, however, defended its actions, characterizing them as “lawful regulation, interception, and expulsion” of a foreign vessel attempting to forcefully intrude into Chinese waters. Following these events, China’s embassy in the Philippines issued a complaint to Manila, citing the “illegal intrusion” of Philippine ships into Chinese waters.

Second Thomas Shoal lies approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of the Philippine island of Palawan and over 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island. The Philippines emphasized its stance against the aggressive actions, asserting that China has no rights in the area and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels from the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal and the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

This incident adds to a series of clashes between vessels from both countries in the same location, exacerbating diplomatic tensions. China’s expansive claims over almost the entirety of the South China Sea, disregarding rival claims and an international ruling against its assertion, have drawn criticism from the United States, which maintains a mutual defense pact with Manila.

Philippine Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro challenged Beijing to pursue arbitration as a means of resolving the dispute, highlighting the need for a sustainable legal resolution. Despite recent agreements between Chinese and Philippine officials to enhance dialogue regarding maritime emergencies, Manila expressed doubt about China’s sincerity in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea, given the recent aggressive actions.

Despite the attack on the supply vessel, Philippine officials confirmed the successful delivery of supplies and personnel to the Filipino outpost on Second Thomas Shoal, crucial for sustaining the troops stationed there. The damaged supply boat, along with its escorts, returned to port after completing the mission, underscoring the ongoing challenges and risks associated with maritime operations in the region.

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