Richard Madelo / AP
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine Navy successfully transported food to Marines guarding a disputed shoal in the South China Sea on Tuesday, a week after the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons to force the supply boats to turn around, sparking outrage and warnings from Manila, officials said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the two wooden boats carrying navy personnel reached the marines stationed on a military vessel at Second Thomas Shoal without any major incident. President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday expressed disgust at a regional summit led by Chinese President Xi Jinping over China’s blockade of supply ships last week.
However, Lorenzana said that while Philippine Navy personnel unloaded supplies from the boats, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel deployed an inflatable boat with three personnel who took photos and videos of Philippine forces. “I communicated to the Chinese ambassador that we consider these acts to be a form of intimidation and harassment,” Lorenzana said.
He said the supply boats had reached the shoal without a Filipino military escort, following a request from the Chinese ambassador in Manila, who assured him over the weekend that the boats would no longer be stranded. But a Filipino military plane flew over as supply boats arrived around noon on the isolated shoal, which was surrounded by Chinese surveillance ships in a multi-year territorial standoff.
The Philippines claims the shoal is in its internationally recognized Exclusive Economic Zone, but China insists it has sovereignty over the waters and the right to defend it.
Officials said the Philippine government conveyed its “outrage, condemnation and protest at the incident” to China after two Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked the two Philippine boats on November 16 and that a third Coast Guard vessel sprayed high pressure water jets on the boats. , who were forced to abandon their resupply mission.
Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. has warned China that supply ships are covered by a mutual defense treaty with the United States. Washington later said it stood with the Philippines “in the face of this escalation which directly threatens regional peace and stability,” and reiterated “that an armed attack on Philippine state ships in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense Commitments ”under the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to protests from the Philippines by saying the Chinese coastguard maintained Chinese sovereignty after Philippine ships entered Chinese waters at night without permission.
Duterte, who has forged closer ties with China, only commented on China’s action on Monday, when he raised the issue at a meeting of leaders of the Association of Asian Nations. Southeast and China, using the Filipino name for shoal.
“We abhor the recent event on the Ayungin Bench and view with deep concern other similar developments,” Duterte said. “This does not speak well of the relationship between our nations and our partnership.”
Xi did not respond directly to Duterte’s remarks, but assured that China would not intimidate its smaller neighbors or seek to dominate Southeast Asia, diplomats said.
China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters have been protested by several rival claimants, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
It was the latest outbreak of long-simmering conflict in the Strategic Waterway, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. China turned seven shoals into island missile-protected bases to cement its claims, escalating tensions.