MANILA – The Philippines condemned “illegal” actions by Chinese vessels on Friday after the boats allegedly interfered in another resupply mission to a remote military outpost in the South China Sea territorial dispute.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which includes key Philippine government agencies, said it “strongly deplores and condemns the continued illegal, aggressive, and destabilising conduct” of Chinese coast guard and “militia” vessels in the waters.
On Friday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard escorted supply vessels to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where a handful of troops are stationed on a crumbling navy ship, the task force said.
The mission was successful, it added. But the task force said it was informed that “China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia” vessels had carried out “harassment, dangerous manouevres, and aggressive conduct” towards the Philippine boats.
China’s coast guard said it issued a stern warning to the Philippine vessels and followed them throughout the journey, repeating China’s “firm” opposition to the Philippines’ transportation of “illegal” construction materials to the grounded warship.
In a statement, a China Coast Guard spokesperson accused the Philippine boats of entering the waters around the reef “without obtaining permission from the Chinese government”.
“The Chinese Coast Guard issued stern warnings, trailed their entire course, and effectively regulated the Philippine ships in accordance with the law,” the spokesperson said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of trade passes annually.
It has ignored an international ruling that its asserion has no legal basis.
Second Thomas Shoal is about 200km from the western Philippine island of Palawan. It is also more than 1,000km from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
The shoal is known in Beijing as Renai Reef and Ayungin in Manila.
It lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and is home to a handful of troops living aboard the warship, grounded there in 1999 to reinforce its sovereignty claim.
Disputes over the World War II-era warship Sierra Madre have heated up after China sprayed a Philippine vessel with a water cannon on an Aug 5 resupply mission, with Philippines rejecting Beijing’s repeated calls to tow away the ship.
The resupply mission came a day after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos told the 18-nation East Asia Summit in Indonesia to oppose the use of “coast guard and maritime militia vessels” in the South China Sea.
Mr Marcos told the gathering, which was attended by China, that Manila was concerned about the installation of military facilities on reclaimed features such as outcrops and reefs, as well as violations of international law.
“We are concerned over consistent actions that are in violation of obligations under international law,” Mr Marcos said, according to a transcript of his remarks released by the presidential palace.
“We must oppose the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea.”
He did not mention any country by name at the summit, which was attended by Chinese Premier Li Qiang and US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Relations between China and the Philippines have frozen over the South China Sea dispute under President Marcos.
Manila has pivoted back to Washington, which supports the South-east Asian nation in its maritime disputes with China.
Reuters had reported that Manila is in talks to develop a civilian port in the remote northernmost islands of the Philippines, which is less than 200km from Taiwan.
The Southeast Asian nation also upgraded bilateral ties with Australia to a strategic partnership amid rising security challenges, including China’s stronger presence in the South China Sea. AFP, REUTERS
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