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South China Sea

Philippines calls out China for ‘unprovoked coercion’ in South China Sea

Philippines calls out China for ‘unprovoked coercion’ in South China Sea
A Philippine Coast Guard's elite force crew on rubber boats embark onto the BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702) patrol ship during a search and rescue exercise during a search and rescue exercise in the South China Sea, Philippines, 06 June 2023. EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

BEIJING/MANILA, March 5 (Reuters) - The Philippines called out Beijing on Tuesday for "unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous manoeuvres" in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying Chinese ships had fired water cannons at one of its vessels, injuring some crew.

China’s actions put “into question the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue and lessening of tensions,” a Philippine task force on the South China Sea said in a statement.

Philippine vessels which were carrying out a resupply mission for Filipino troops near the Second Thomas Shoal were “harassed (and) blocked” by Chinese maritime militia and coast guard ships, which fired water cannons that shattered the windshield of one of its boats, causing minor injuries to at least four crew members, it said.

The Chinese coast guard’s “reckless” and “illegal” actions also led to the collision between a Chinese and Philippine ship, with the latter sustaining “minor structural damage,” Manila’s coast guard spokesperson said separately.

But China laid the blame on its neighbour, saying Philippine ships had illegally intruded into waters adjacent to the Second Thomas Shoal, which it calls Renai Reef, so it had to take control measures.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which includes the Second Thomas Shoal, and has deployed vessels to patrol the disputed atoll which lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The shoal, known in the Philippines as Ayungin, is home to a small number of Filipino troops stationed on a rusting warship which Manila grounded there in 1999 to reinforce sovereignty claims.

“The on-site operation was professional and restrained, reasonable and lawful,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular news conference.

“China once again urges the Philippine side to stop maritime violations and provocations and refrain from taking any actions that may complicate the maritime situation,” Mao said.

Tuesday’s incident was the latest in a series of maritime run-ins between the Philippines and China, which have been locked in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration which found that China’s claims had no legal basis. Beijing rejects that ruling.

“Peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others,” the Philippine task force said. “We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.”

The Philippines moved a step closer to enacting a Maritime Zones law after its Congress passed the bill that clearly establishes the exact metres and bounds of the country’s maritime entitlements under international law.

But China said it has “lodged solemn representations with the Philippine side” to oppose the measure, which Mao described as “an out-and-out evil law, which will inevitably complicate the situation in the South China Sea”

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said at a forum in Australia on Monday that his country will cooperate in talks with China but it will push back when its sovereignty and maritime rights are ignored.

In a departure from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China stance, Marcos has accused Beijing of aggression in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, including the use of water cannon, “military-grade” lasers and collision tactics to drive away Philippine vessels.

The China Coast Guard issued a statement on the latest incident between the countries along with other past coast guard actions, including a link to what it called the “illegal invasion of Scarborough Shoal” on Feb. 23.

In that incident it said a China Coast Guard ship took necessary measures to drive a Philippine vessel away in accordance with the law.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr and Shanghai newsroom and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Chris Reese, Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)

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