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Please explain: Philippines requests explanation after water cannon altercation

A photo from the incident. Photo: Philippines Coast Guard.

The Philippines is requesting an explanation from the People’s Republic of China ambassador, as tensions between the two countries escalate from a recent altercation at sea.

The Philippines is requesting an explanation from the People’s Republic of China ambassador, as tensions between the two countries escalate from a recent altercation at sea.

Philippine leadership alleges the China Coast Guard (CCG) recently conducted dangerous blocking manoeuvres and illegally used water cannons against two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels and two escorted indigenous boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on 5 August.

The boats were intercepted while reportedly delivering food, water, fuel, and other supplies to military troops stationed on the (run-aground ship, now-outpost) Philippine Navy tank landing ship BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

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Actions by the CCG disregarded the safety of the PCG crew and the supply boats and violated international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and the 2016 Arbitral Award according to PCG Spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea CG Commodore Jay Tarriela.

The Philippine Coast Guard has also asked that the CCG restrain its forces, respect sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in the unlawful incident.

“We continue to assert our sovereignty. We continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all of these challenges and consistent with the international law and UNCLOS especially,” said Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr during a press conference regarding the event.

“Our secretary of foreign affairs summoned ambassador Huang today (7 July) and gave him a note verbale, including pictures, video about what happened and we are awaiting their reply.”

The Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands has seen ongoing territorial conflicts between the Philippines and the PRC. Importantly, it is the home of the World War II-era BRP Sierra Madre, which ran aground there in May 1997.

The tank landing ship is still under commission with the Philippine Navy, reportedly houses Philippines Marines troops and is claimed as an official extension of sovereign territory.

The People’s Republic of China has previously requested the ship be removed, amid its own territory claims of almost all the South China Sea under the “nine-dash line” map. However, in July 2016, a United Nations arbitral tribunal ruled that China’s historic-rights claim over the maritime areas in the nine-dash line map had no lawful effect.

A China Coast Guard spokesperson said the CCG expelled two repair ships and two coast guard ships from the Philippines that trespassed China’s territorial waters near Ren’ai Jiao, part of the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea.

“We urge the Philippine side to immediately stop its infringing activities in this (these) waters,” the spokesperson said

“The China Coast Guard will continue to carry out law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction according to law.”

The CCG implemented lawful necessary controls and stopped Philippine ships carrying illegal building materials, according to the CCG spokesperson.

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said the US will not be sending assistance at this time.

“To my knowledge, the Philippines have not asked for additional assistance. We stand with our Philippine allies in terms of their right to be able to supply/resupply the ship on the Second Thomas Shoal, and that will continue to be our position,” he said when questioned about the incident during a US Department of Defense briefing on 7 August.

A PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson said recent remarks from the US State Department concerning Ren’ai Jiao are a continuation of a “staged pure political drama”.

“Ren’ai Jiao has always been part of China’s Nansha Qundao. 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,” the spokesperson said.

“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.

“For some time, the US has been inciting and supporting the Philippines attempts to overhaul and reinforce its military vessel that was deliberately grounded on Ren’ai Jiao.

“The US has been brazenly bolstering Philippines as it infringes upon China’s sovereignty, but those moves will not succeed. The US even sent over military aircraft and vessels to assist and support the Philippines, and repeatedly sought to threaten China by citing the US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

“The South China Sea arbitration was a pure political drama staged in the name of the law with the US pulling strings behind the scenes. The so-called award contravenes international laws, including UNCLOS, and is illegal, null and void.

“The US’s attempt to make an issue of the illegal award will not affect China’s firm resolve to safeguard its territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests in accordance with the law. We urge the US to stop utilising the South China Sea issue to sow confusion and discord, and we urge it to respect China’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and respect regional countries’ efforts to uphold peace and stability in this region.”

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