The US yesterday warned China after a standoff in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines, saying it stood by Manila amid an “escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability”.
Beijing “should not interfere with lawful Philippine activities in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone”, US state department’s Ned Price said in a statement.
The action “escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” Price said
On Thursday, the Philippines condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.
Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said Philippines boats were transporting food to military personnel based at the Second Thomas Shoal when the incident occurred.
“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public vessel is covered by a Philippines-US Mutual Defence Treaty.
Locsin said he had conveyed “in the strongest terms” to China’s ambassador in Manila “our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident.”
The Second Thomas Shoal, 195km off Palawan, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and a small contingent of military have occupied it since 1999 having intentionally grounded a navy ship on the reef.
China regards the shoal as its territory as it falls within the “nine-dash line” that it uses on maps denoting its claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
A 2016 international arbitration ruling, however, said the Chinese line had no legal basis.
Locsin said China’s failure to exercise self-restraint “threatens the special relationship” between the two countries.
The office of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been a staunch supporter of China, said “we will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.”
Price added that “the US stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defence commitments.”
“The US strongly believes that PRC (People’s Republic of China) actions asserting its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims undermine peace and security in the region,” he added.
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