Philippines tells China to 'back off' after South China Sea standoff

MANILA – The Philippines on Thursday “strongly condemned” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels allegedly blocking and using water cannons on supply boats heading for a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.

Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said no one was injured in the incident on Tuesday at the Second Thomas Shoal, but the Filipino boats carrying food to military personnel stationed there had to abandon their mission.

“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. You have to watch out and withdraw, ”Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public ship is covered by a mutual defense treaty between the Philippines and the United States.

Locsin said he had conveyed “our outrage, condemnation and protest against the incident” “in the strongest” to China’s ambassador in Manila.

Filipino Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said no one was injured in the incident on Tuesday.Thomas Peter / Reuters file

China’s embassy did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

The Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles from Palawan, lies in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and has been occupied by a small contingent of military since 1999 after it deliberately landed a naval ship on the reef.

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China considers the shoal its territory because it lies within the “nine-dash line” it uses on maps that mark its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. However, an international arbitration ruling from 2016 stated that the Chinese line had no legal basis.

Locsin said China’s failure to exercise restraint “threatens special relations” between the two countries.

The office of President Rodrigo Duterte, who was a staunch supporter of China, said it was aware of the incident in the shallows.

“We will continue to assert our sovereignty, our sovereign rights and our jurisdiction,” said acting spokesman Karlo Nograles.

Prior to the incident, National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon said authorities had noticed an unusual presence of Chinese maritime militias near the atoll and the Philippines-occupied Thitu Island. China has denied running a militia.

Last week there were 19 ships near Second Thomas Shoal and 45 near Thitu Island, Esperon told reporters, describing them as “very aggressive”.

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