China is ‘deliberately stirring up trouble’ in the South China Sea, Philippines says

A dramatic confrontation with Beijing in the South China Sea this week was the most serious incident yet for the Philippines, top security officials said on Wednesday, vowing not to back down in asserting the country’s sovereign rights.

The Philippines is outraged by what it calls repeated aggressive behavior by the Chinese coast guard, accusing its ships of using water cannons and blocking and harassing a Philippine supply mission for troops stationed at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines’ South China Sea Task Force said a top admiral was aboard a ship that was fired upon with a water cannon by China’s coast guard, shattering its windshield and wounding four navy personnel. The admiral was unharmed.

“This is the most serious incident to date,” said Jonathan Malaya, spokesman for the task force, accusing China of “deliberately causing trouble” and “maliciously fueling hype.”

China accused the Philippines of encroaching on its territory and claimed indisputable sovereignty over the reef, located 1,300 km from the mainland. China claims most of the South China Sea as its own, despite an international arbitration panel concluding that this position had no basis in international law.

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said Wednesday that China’s claims are baseless and that China’s actions this week are “blatantly illegal and downright uncivilized.”

“This claim, simply put, is a claim that no right-thinking state in the world agrees with and that many roundly condemn,” Teodoro said in a statement.

Philippine Coast Guard personnel ride a rubber boat during a supply mission to troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal.Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Philippine Coast Guard personnel deploy fenders as they brace for a collision with a Chinese vessel at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on Tuesday.Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

“(Her) futile attempt to fabricate and sell this story fails in the face of real, irrefutable facts.”

Tuesday’s incident was the latest in a series of confrontations between the Philippines and China over disputed areas in the South China Sea, coinciding with a recent surge in defense activity between the militaries of Manila and Washington.

Australia and Southeast Asian countries on Wednesday called for restraint in the disputed South China Sea and adherence to a “rules-based” order in the Indo-Pacific.

“We encourage all countries to avoid unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region,” they said in a joint statement after a three-day meeting.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the situation was generally stable and China’s position on the Second Thomas Shoal was consistent and clear.

The US State Department said it is supporting the Philippines after “provocative actions” by China.

Filipino personnel on board BRP Sindangan as a Chinese ship sails nearby.Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

The Philippines and the United States have a mutual defense treaty that requires them to defend each other if attacked. This raises the stakes in a region where tensions have simmered for decades over Beijing’s claims to territory in the South China Sea, a key conduit for global trade.

Philippine officials said Wednesday that invoking that pact would be a serious matter, although consultations are taking place between the two countries.

However, speaking in Australia, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that now is not the time or reason to invoke the treaty, but that the incident is being viewed “with great concern.”

The Philippine Foreign Ministry said its embassy in China has issued a “demarche,” or formal reprimand, to its counterpart in Beijing.

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