PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday said the Philippines had not agreed to remove its outpost from Second Thomas Shoal in the South China, contrary to China’s claim.
“I’m not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory its ship, in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal,” he said in a statement, referring to Second Thomas Shoal.
The President issued the remarks after the Chinese government renewed its call on Monday for the Philippine government to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal.
The rusty World War II-era US ship that Manila intentionally grounded there in 1999 to assert its claim is within the country’s exclusive economic zone and is the country’s “symbol of sovereignty rights and jurisdiction,” Mr. Marcos Jr. said.
The chief executive added that he was repealing any commitments should there be an existing agreement between the Philippines and China on the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal. “And let me go further, if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now.”
China’s Defense Ministry has urged the Philippines to stop all “provocative” actions in the South China Sea after the Chinese Coast Guard blocked Philippine vessels trying to supply food to an outpost at the Second Thomas Shoal.
“China will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty,” the ministry said in a statement late Tuesday.
In a separate statement, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian reiterated that the shoal, which China calls Ren’ai Jiao, belongs to them.
“I would like to stress that Ren’ai Jiao has always been part of China’s Nansha Qundao,” he said in the statement posted on the Chinese Embassy’s website.
“The historical context of the issue of Ren’ai Jiao is very clear, and China’s position on it is consistent and firm,” he added.
Mr. Huang said China has always stayed committed to keeping peace and stability in the South China Sea.
He added that China has made “temporary special arrangements” for the Philippines to deliver basic supplies such as food to a handful of troops on BRP Sierra Madre, a rusty World War II-era US ship that Manila intentionally grounded there in 1999 to assert is claim.
“But for some time, the Philippine side has been taking unilateral actions once again and seeking to overhaul and reinforce the military vessel in order to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao,” Mr. Huang said. “The Philippines’ action violates international law and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”
Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island.
The Chinese envoy said China had suggested to hold talks on how to manage the situation at Second Thomas Shoal, which is a “clear display of China’s goodwill and sincerity.”
“Regrettably, in disregard of China’s repeated dissuasion and warning, the Philippines tried to deliver the construction materials for overhauling and reinforcing the grounded military vessel,” he said.
This prompted its coast guard to fire a water cannon at the Philippine ships on a resupply mission.
“Under such circumstances, the Chinese side was made to respond with necessary moves. China’s Coast Guard took warning law enforcement measures in accordance with the law,” he added.
China’s coast guard on Tuesday released a video of its ship spraying a water cannon at a smaller Philippine boat, saying it had handled the incident according to law.
The Aug. 5 video showed the water barely hitting the makeshift Philippine boat that was trying to deliver food and other supplies to Filipino troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines calls Ayungin.
The Chinese Coast Guard in a website posting said the Philippine boats had entered Second Thomas Shoal illegally. It maintained “rational restraint throughout the process,” it added.
China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its call for the Philippines to remove the outpost from the shoal. China has communicated to the Philippines about the Second Thomas Shoal issue “many times” through diplomatic channels, but its goodwill and sincerity have been “ignored,” it said.
Jonathan Malaya, spokesman of the Philippines’ National Security Council, on Tuesday repeated comments he made on Monday, saying “the Philippines will never abandon our post in Ayungin Shoal.”
“We urge China not to escalate matters by water cannons or military-grade lasers, which places Philippine lives at risk, but by sincere negotiations and other diplomatic means,” he added.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Second Thomas Shoal is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China on Monday asked the Philippines to remove its grounded warship from the shoal, accusing its neighbor of violating its sovereignty, its own commitments and international law.
Mr. Huang said China and the Philippines are separated by a strip of water and would remain close neighbors.
“Peace and stability in the South China Sea serves the common interests of the two peoples as well as all countries in the region,” he said.
He added that China has been waiting for the Philippines to respond to its proposal for talks on the Second Thomas Shoal.
“China stands ready to continue to properly handle maritime issues with the Philippines through dialogue and consultation,” the envoy said. “With a view to upholding maritime stability, we hope that the Philippines will meet China halfway and make joint efforts to start negotiations on the above initiatives soon.”
Mr. Huang also said the South China Sea is not a “hunting ground” or countries outside the region to meddle with, sow discord and provoke conflicts.
He accused the US of inciting and supporting Philippine attempts to overhaul and reinforce its grounded ship.
The US even sent over military aircraft and vessels to help the Philippines, and repeatedly sought to threaten China by citing the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, he added.
“The US has also rallied ertain allies to persistently sensationalize the South China Sea issue, extensively hype up the recent maritime incident and attack China’s legitimate and lawful actions at sea,” the Chinese envoy said.
“Justice lies not in the loudness of one’s voice, but in the truth and rightness. The US attempts will lead nowhere,” he said. “China unequivocally rejects words and actions that aim to stoke tension and confrontation in the South China Sea.
He urged the US to respect China’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and respect regional countries’ fforts to uphold peace and stability in this region.
The Philippines on Sunday condemned the Chinese action as “excessive and offensive.” It was done “in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board and in violation of international law,” the Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement.
Tensions between the two countries have flared under Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who is leading a pivot back to the US, which has been given access to more military bases under their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
China has ignored a 2016 ruling by a United Nations (UN)-backed tribunal that favored the Philippines and voided its claim to more than 80% of the sea based on a 1940s map.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan Brunei and Malaysia also claim parts of the major waterway. — Norman P. Aquino and John Victor D. Ordoñez