A CHINESE Coast Guard ship ‘shadowing’ a Philippine vessel on its way to deliver supplies on Dec. 17, 2022 to troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, which is grounded in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. — WESTERN COMMAND AFP

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE UNITED States has backed the Philippine Senate’s condemnation of China for what they described as harassment and encroachment in Philippine maritime territories in the highly disputed South China Sea, according to a statement released by the US Department of State.

“We join our Philippine allies in calling on the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to stop its provocative actions in the South China Sea,” US Department of State Spokesperson Edward “Ned” Price said in a tweet on Tuesday.

He cited Beijing’s “amassing of its maritime militia around Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal, and interfering with lawful Philippine fishing activities there.”

Washington said China’s actions obstruct the livelihood of Philippine fishing communities, noting that this reflected “continuing disregard for other South China Sea claimants and states lawfully operating in the region.”

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

“Furthermore, we share the Philippines’ concerns regarding the unsafe encounter that the PRC Coast Guard initiated with Philippines naval forces in the South China Sea, as documented before the Senate of the Philippines on December 14,” Mr. Price said in a statement released by the US government.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the US Department of State’s Dec. 19 statement contain “unfounded accusations against China that attempt to stir up troubles and drive a wedge between China and the Philippines.”

“We strongly deplore and firmly oppose this,” the embassy said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“The US keeps meddling in the South China Sea disputes and trying to drive wedges between countries in the region, creating tensions and harming regional peace and stability. What the US has done is not to help anyone but to serve its own geopolitical interests,” it said.

The Senate recently adopted a still unnumbered resolution expressing “disgust” over China’s maneuvers in the South China Sea, noting risks that may lead to short and long-term implications for the Philippines’ national security.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino, in a privilege speech, brought up an allegedly “forceful” retrieval of a rocket debris that fell within Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not release a statement after the Senate resolution.

Beijing earlier denied the cited skirmish, saying that “relevant reports are inconsistent with facts” as only a “friendly consultation” occurred during the incident.

“There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene,” the Chinese Embassy said.

However, Mr. Tolentino presented a video at the floor which showed the “brazen” actions from Chinese coast guard vessels during the incident.

During the session, he also noted Chinese interference in the provision of humanitarian supplies to government personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre in the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin shore, as well as other incidents of debris falling within Philippine archipelagic waters.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs “has undertaken appropriate diplomatic actions to protest and make known our views on the illegal actions of the Chinese Coast Guards,” Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza said in a WhatsApp message to reporters on Friday.

“We stand with our Philippine friends, partners, allies,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay L. Carlson said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The US reiterated its support for the Philippines’ continued calls on China to respect international maritime rules, citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and legal obligations under the 2016 arbitral ruling.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the disputed waterway.

China has repeatedly rejected the 2016 arbitral ruling, which voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1940s nine-dash line map.

“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in upholding the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law,” Mr. Price said.