The Philippines on Thursday asked China to dismantle all illegal structures, cease reclamations and be accountable for environmental damage in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the regular resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone are legitimate activities and it will give no prior notice to China.
“We are being asked to give prior notification each time we conduct a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. We will not do so. The resupply missions are legitimate activities within our EEZ, in accordance with international law,” DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a statement.
The regular resupply missions support Filipino troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era warship that was intentionally grounded in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in 1999 as an outpost against Chinese encroachment.
Daza said the BRP Sierra Madre is a commissioned Philippine naval vessel permanently stationed in Ayungin Shoal to serve as a constant Philippine government presence in response to China’s illegal occupation in 1995 of Panganiban Reef, also known as Mischief Reef.
The DFA statement was issued days after the China Coast Guard (CCG) fired a water cannon at a Philippine boat carrying provisions to the Filipino troops on the BRP Sierra Madre.
Meanwhile, the National Security Council on Thursday said it “highly discouraged” the planned Christmas convoy civilian mission in the West Philippine Sea, citing the heightened tensions in the area.
Speaking in the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon program, NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said that despite the organizers’ good intentions to spread Christmas cheer to the troops stationed in the area, the Council cannot support the mission due to security reasons “even though the intention is good.”
China might view the civilian mission as “provoking” and could lead to a more heated situation in the waterway, Malaya added.
Daza said Ayungin Shoal is in the Philippines’ EEZ under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The resupply mission to and the upkeep of the BRP Sierra Madre are legitimate Philippine government activities in our EEZ, and inaccordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS. It is difficult to imagine how these activities could be deemed threatening to China,” she said.
The Philippine embassy in Beijing has protested the latest incident, which took place on Nov. 11.
The Chinese side defended their actions by saying the Philippine boats “trespassed” into their waters “without the permission of the Chinese government.”
But Daza pointed out UNCLOS superseded any “historic rights” that China might claim.
“In accordance with UNCLOS and the final and binding 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration, Ayungin Shoal is ‘within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines,’ over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” Daza said.
“China cannot, therefore, lawfully exercise sovereignty over it,” she added.
In San Francisco, US Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed that the US would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines when it comes to defending its territorial rights in the South China Sea.
Harris reiterated the US’ commitment during her meeting with President Marcos, who is in San Francisco for the 2023 APEC Summit.
She also cited the US defense commitment under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which states that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, would invoke the US mutual defense commitments.
In Indonesia, American Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III met with Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and renewed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines.
“Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the US defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone,” the US State Department said in a statement on Thursday.
The two officials met in Jakarta on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, days after a China Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon at a Philippine boat contracted by the military to carry fresh provisions to Filipino troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The US State Department said Austin and Teodoro, in their meeting, “denounced the recent harassment by vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) towards Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations around Second Thomas Shoal,” referring to Ayungin Shoal by its international name.
The two officials also denounced the “dangerous operational PRC maneuvers against US aircraft and ships lawfully operating in the South China Sea,” the US State Department said.
Austin and Teodoro called on China to abide by its obligations under international law as they emphasized that the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling on a case filed by the Philippines is “final and binding.”
On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released a 501-page ruling declaring China’s historical claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal under UNCLOS, which is considered the constitution of the seas.
The arbitral tribunal, however, has no enforcement power.
China has repeatedly said that it does not recognize the arbitral award.
Also on Thursday, the Philippines and Japan affirmed an agreement to work closely on issues in the South China Sea and other areas of common concern.
Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Kamikawa Yoko met at the APEC Summit in San Francisco, California.
Manalo and Kamikawa reaffirmed “to steadily promote” bilateral cooperation in areas such as security, the transfer of defense equipment and technology, maritime security capacity building, and the start of negotiations on the Reciprocal Access Agreement.
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