US backs Philippines amid reported swarming of Chinese vessels in Spratlys

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
US backs Philippines amid reported swarming of Chinese vessels in Spratlys
This handout video grab taken on April 27, 2021 and received from the Philippine Coastguard on May 5, 2021 shows the Philippine coastguard ship BRP Cabra (front) monitoring Chinese vessels at Sabina Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop claimed by Manila located about 135 kilometres (73 nautical miles) west of the Philippine island of Palawan.
Handout / Philippine Coastguard / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The United States on Tuesday expressed support for the Philippines amid reports Chinese vessels are swarming near Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

“The reported escalating swarms of PRC vessels in the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands interfere with the livelihoods of Philippine fishing communities, and also reflect continuing disregard for other South China Sea claimants and states lawfully operating in the region,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Price said Washington backs the Philippines’ calls for China to respect international law in the South China Sea, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 ruling of a Hague-based arbitral tribunal that voided Beijing’s sweeping claims over the disputed waters.

The Philippines' Department of National Defense has expressed “great concern” over the “unacceptable” activities of China which it said “violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and undermine the peace and stability of the region.”

The military, meanwhile, noted that it has monitored continuing and repeated violations against the UNCLOS by foreign vessels, adding that “these are being reported to and acted upon by concerned agencies.”

The Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration, however, has yet to publicly announce that it has filed a diplomatic protest over the reported swarming of Chinese vessels in the Spratlys, which Manila also claims.

‘Unsafe encounter’

The US also said it shared the Philippines’ concerns on the “unsafe encounter” between the Chinese Coast Guard and the Philippine Coast Guard in the South China Sea, where debris believed to be from a Chinese rocket was “rudely” taken by Beijing’s forces.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila denied this as it claimed that the debris was “returned” to Beijing after “friendly consultation,” but this was proven to be false in a video shown by Sen. Francis Tolentino on the Senate floor.

Prior to Tolentino’s revelation, Manila filed a diplomatic note asking China to explain the incident, which Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo made clear was not a diplomatic protest.

He previously told CNN Philippines’ “The Source” in November that if the Philippines finds China’s reply lacking or would need further clarification, “we will continue the discussion perhaps in notes verbale or if necessary through verbal face-to-face meetings.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas has called on the Marcos administration to lodge a diplomatic protest with China.

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