MANILA, Philippines — The United States has urged China to “desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct” following a near-collision in the West Philippine Sea between its coast guard ship and a patrol vessel of the Philippines.
Last Friday, the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) of “aggressive tactics” when one of its ships cut off the BRP Malapascua, putting the Filipino crew in danger.
“The United States continues to track and monitor these interactions closely,” the State Department said in a statement released on Saturday (yesterday in Manila).
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that on April 23, in waters around Ayungin Shoal, CCG Ship No. 5201 blocked the path of the much smaller BRP Malapascua, coming within 50 yards of a deadly point of collision.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) had invited a small group of journalists to join the 1,670-kilometer patrol in the West Philippine Sea.
The US State Department said the imagery and video recently published is “a stark reminder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within their exclusive economic zone.”
Washington expressed its support to the Philippines and reiterated its obligations to its ally under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The United States stands with The Philippines in the face of the People’s Republic of China Coast Guard’s continued infringement upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” it added.
Australia expressed concern over the “unprofessional and dangerous conduct against the Philippines in its EEZ.”
“Australia reiterates our call for peace, stability and respect for UNCLOS in the South China Sea, a vital international waterway,” Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu said in a Twitter post.
DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said another Philippine vessel encountered a similar incident with CCG 5201 and 4202 when BRP Malapascua was on its way to Ayungin Shoal on April 19.
Filipino troops are stationed on a rusting warship, BRP Sierra Madre, at Ayungin Shoal to serve as a Philippine military outpost and assert the country’s territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Daza emphasized that the Philippines has the legal right to carry out routine maritime patrols in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The deployment of the BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua in the West Philippine Sea from April 18 to 24 was one such mission.
“The China Coast Guard’s interference with this routine patrol mission was totally inconsistent with freedom of navigation, and a number of documented incidents also involved highly dangerous maneuvers that were contrary to standard navigational practices,” she said.
China’s Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, blamed the Philippine Coast Guard boat’s “premeditated, provocative action.”
Daza countered this by stating that “routine patrols in our waters can neither be premeditated nor provocative. It is a legal right that we exercised and will continue to exercise.”
The Philippines called on China to respect its rights over the West Philippine Sea, as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to refrain from actions that may cause an untoward incident.
In Congress, Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto urged the Marcos administration to maintain an unwavering stance in protecting the country’s maritime territory from Chinese incursions.
The Batangas 6th District congressman warned that failure on the part of the Philippine government to stand its ground will only encourage Beijing’s aggressive behavior.
Recto emphasized the need to continue diplomatic protests and patrols in the West Philippine Sea to deter Chinese encroachments.
“Even if we have to wallpaper the Great Wall with diplomatic protests, we should continue because once we show any sign of wavering, it normalizes China’s misbehavior inside our territory,” Recto said.
“We also owe it to our neighbors, who are the subject of Chinese incursions, to make noise,” he added. The House leader made the remarks as the DFA reportedly plans to file more diplomatic protests against Beijing following its recent harassment of two Coast Guard patrol boats near Ayungin Shoal.
In 2022, the DFA filed a total of 195 notes verbale on West Philippine Sea incidents with the Chinese embassy. — Delon Porcalla