US calls out China for 'irresponsible' behavior vs Philippine vessels in Ayungin Shoal

US calls out China for 'irresponsible' behavior vs Philippine vessels in Ayungin Shoal
In this handout photo taken on June 30, 2023 and received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on July 5, a Chinese Coast Guard ship (R) allegedly blocks Philippine Coast Guard patrol ship Malabrigo, as it escorts a Philippine Navy re-supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China sea.
Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — Officials from the United States government have rushed to call out the alleged harassment of Chinese vessels against Philippine vessels that were on a support mission to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said Thursday that China exhibited "coercive and risky operational behavior against Philippine vessels operating safely and lawfully in the South China Sea, including around Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal)."

Similarly, the US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson expressed concern over the "unprofessional maneuvers" of the Chinese Coast Guard against the Philippine Coast Guard. "The PRC's irresponsible behavior in the South China Sea threatens the security and legal rights of our treaty ally, the Philippines."

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) was assisting a naval operation on June 30 when they were “constantly followed, harassed, and obstructed” by Chinese vessels, PCG spokesperson Jay Tarriela said.

In an interview with state broadcaster People’s Television, Tarriela said that the PCG had to “decrease speed” in the tense waterway as they responded to radio challenges from the Chinese ships.  

In a call with Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., Austin renewed the United States' commitment to the Philippines and reiterated that the "Mutual Defense Treaty" extends to all Philippine troops — including the Coast Guard — in the Pacific and "anywhere in the South China Sea."

“The Secretaries reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the rules-based order and supporting the livelihoods of local Philippine communities and other claimant states that seek to conduct lawful maritime activities in the South China Sea, consistent with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling,” Austin added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has said that the maneuvers of their vessels were "professional and restrained," disagreeing with the PCG's account of what took place in the area of the disputed reefs. 

The Chinese official said that Ayungin Shoal — "Ren'ai Reef" — is part of China's Nansha Islands and that it was the PCG ships that intruded into Chinese waters without permission.

China has claimed sovereignty over a sweeping portion of the South China Sea by delineating it with a "nine-dash line" on its maps, including the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, among other neighboring countries.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration declared in July 2016 that this demarcation has no legal basis.  The ruling also stated that China's actions within Philippine waters, such as illegal fishing and constructing islands, violated the sovereignty of the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs this week said that it has filed 97 diplomatic protests over China's presence in the West Philippine Sea.  — Cristina Chi with reports by Gaea Katreena Cabico

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