US Urges China to Stop Harassing Philippine Vessels in Disputed Sea

US Urges China to Stop Harassing Philippine Vessels in Disputed Sea
A Chinese coast guard ship (R), with bow number 5201 passes by now crumbling Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre (L), at the Second Thomas Shoal locally known as Ayungin Shoal at the South China Sea, on April 23, 2023. (Aaron Favila/AP Photo)

The United States on Saturday urged China to stop harassing Philippine vessels in the South China Sea after a tense encounter between a Chinese coast guard ship and a Philippine patrol ship in the disputed waters.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the incident in the Ayungin Shoal—also known as the Second Thomas Shoal—was a “stark reminder” of China’s “harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels” in the disputed waters.

“We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct. The United States continues to track and monitor these interactions closely,” Miller said in a statement.

He reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to supporting the Philippines in the South China Sea and said that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft would invoke its mutual defense treaty.

The two nations are allies under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which dictates that the United States and the Philippines will defend each other if either is attacked.

His remarks came a day before Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. left on a five-day visit to the United States, where he will meet with President Joe Biden to discuss social-economic and security cooperation.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said last week that two Chinese coast guard ships blocked its patrol ships—BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo—patrolling in the Ayungin Shoal on April 23, which “exhibited aggressive tactics.”

One of the Chinese ships “carried out dangerous maneuvers” at a distance of 50 yards from the BRP Malapascua, posing “a significant threat” to the safety of the ship’s crew members, the PCG stated.

The second Chinese coast guard vessel shadowed BRP Malabrigo at a distance of 700 yards, it added.

The Ayungin Shoal is part of the Spratly Islands, about 105 nautical miles off the Philippine province of Palawan.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea classifies maritime areas within 200 nautical miles of coastal nations’ borders as part of their exclusive economic zones. Beijing claims much of the South China Sea under its “nine-dash line.”

Philippines Wishes to Avoid Conflict

Hours before departing for Washington on Sunday, Marcos urged Beijing to establish a “direct communication line” between their officials to prevent dangerous collisions between vessels in the disputed waters.

File Photo Philippines Swears In Ferdinand Marcos Jr As New President
Newly-elected Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivers a speech during the inauguration ceremony at the National Museum in Manila, Philippines, on June 30, 2022. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

“This is the kind of thing that we’re hoping to avoid. It was a little more dangerous this time because [the ships] were so close,” Marcos told reporters. “They almost collided, and that will cause casualties on both sides.”

He said the Philippines plays “a crucial role” as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The Philippines’ goal is simple, we work for peace. We will not encourage any provocative action … We will not allow that to happen,” he added.

Marcos is expected to discuss the U.S.–Philippines mutual defense treaty with Biden during his trip to Washington, the state-run news agency reported.

Over 100 Chinese Militia Vessels Detected

The PCG said that over 100 Chinese maritime militia vessels, a People’s Liberation Army Navy corvette class, and two Chinese coast guard vessels were spotted in several Philippine-controlled areas from April 18 to 24.

The PCG vessels sent their rigid hull inflatable boats to disperse over 100 Chinese militia vessels swarming near Julian Felipe Reef—within the country’s 200-mile EEZ—but to no avail.

“No CMM [Chinese maritime militia] vessels reacted or made any attempts to vacate the area,” the coast guard said in a statement.

The PCG vessels also issued “numerous radio challenges” to some 18 Chinese maritime militia vessels gathering around Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Still, they refused to comply with the order.

In February, the PCG reported that a Chinese coast guard vessel used a “military-grade laser” against its ship in the Ayungin Shoal to impede a resupply mission, temporarily blinding its crew.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei have all made their own overlapping claims in the South China Sea, where it is estimated $5 trillion in goods passes each year. It is also believed that there are rich gas and oil deposits in the region.

Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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