The Philippine government has expressed its strong condemnation and protest over the Chinese coast guard’s use of a water cannon against a Filipino supply boat in the disputed South China Sea. The incident occurred on Saturday, when the Filipino boat was delivering troops and supplies to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal.
Diplomatic protest and international support
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Monday morning to convey a strongly worded diplomatic protest. The DFA said that the Chinese coast guard ship’s action violated international regulations aimed at avoiding collisions at sea and the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries are signatories to.
The DFA also reiterated its call for China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty and sovereign rights over its maritime zones, as well as the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. The DFA said that the Philippines remains committed to upholding peace and stability in the region through dialogue and cooperation.
The United States, the European Union, and their key allies including Australia and Japan expressed support to the Philippines and concern over the Chinese ship’s actions. Washington renewed a warning that it is obliged to defend its longtime treaty ally if Filipino public vessels and forces come under an armed attack including in the South China Sea.
Tense confrontation at Second Thomas Shoal
The Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines maintains a small military outpost on a grounded ship called BRP Sierra Madre. The shoal is also claimed by China, which calls it Ren’ai Reef, and Taiwan, which calls it Jen-ai Reef.
According to the Philippine military and coast guard, Philippine navy personnel on board two chartered supply boats were cruising toward Second Thomas Shoal, escorted by Philippine coast guard ships, when a Chinese coast guard ship approached and used a powerful water cannon to block the Filipinos from reaching the shoal. The Chinese ship’s action was “in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board” the Philippine navy-chartered boat and violated international law, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.
The Philippine coast guard said that it tried to communicate with the Chinese ship through radio, but received no response. The Filipino boat then maneuvered around the Chinese ship and successfully delivered its cargo to the BRP Sierra Madre. The Philippine coast guard said that it will continue to perform its mandate of protecting Filipino fishermen and vessels in the country’s waters.
Long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea
The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, where about $3 trillion worth of trade passes through every year. It is also rich in fishery resources and potential oil and gas reserves. However, it is also a source of conflict among several countries that have overlapping claims over parts or all of it.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea based on its historical rights and its nine-dash line map, which was rejected by an international tribunal in 2016. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have competing claims over various islands, reefs, and shoals in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
The disputes have led to several incidents of harassment, intimidation, and violence between claimant states and their fishermen, coast guards, and navies. Despite several attempts to ease tensions and promote cooperation, such as through a code of conduct among Southeast Asian nations and China, the situation remains volatile and unpredictable.