Philippines’ allies condemn China’s aggressive action in South China Sea

The U.S. condemned as “escalatory and irresponsible” China’s latest display of aggression when it stopped a Philippine vessel from resupplying a Filipino outpost in the Spratly archipelago in the disputed South China Sea on June 17. 

“PRC (People’s Republic of China) vessels’ dangerous and deliberate use of water cannons, ramming, blocking maneuvers, and towing damaged Philippine vessels, endangered the lives of Philippine service members, is reckless, and threatens regional peace and stability,” Matthew Miller, U.S. Department of State spokesperson, said in Washington.  

Philippine officials confirmed on June 18 that Chinese naval vessels in the Spratlys conducted dangerous maneuvers, which involved “ramming and towing” during the resupply mission. 

The Philippines’ resupply vessels were headed for the BRP Sierra Madre, a derelict landing ship that was run aground in the Ayungin Shoal in the Spratlys in 1999 to serve as an outpost for Filipino marines. 

“This escalatory incident is the latest in a series of PRC provocations to impede critically needed supplies from reaching service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre,” Miller said. He added that China’s actions showed its “consistent disregard for safety” and international law in the South China Sea. 

U.S.-Philippines defense treaty 

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell also “shared concerns” over China’s activities and agreed that its “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” according to Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro. 

Lazaro told journalists on June 18 that she spoke with Campbell after the incident and the U.S. official reaffirmed that the 1951 United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.” 

The day before the statements of Miller and Campbell, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson was the first U.S. official to condemn China’s actions. 

“The U.S. condemns the PRC’s aggressive, dangerous maneuvers near Ayungin Shoal, which caused bodily injury, damaged Philippine vessels, and hindered lawful maritime operations to supply food, water, and essential supplies to Filipino personnel within the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” she said in a post on X. 

“We stand by our allies in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she added. 

Freedom of navigation 

The U.S. Pacific Fleet announced June 17 that it had just conducted on June 16 a four-nation maritime exercise in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) with Canada, Japan and the Philippines.

The statement from the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Stephen Koeler, said the exercise involved the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), the Japanese destroyer JS Kirisame (DD 104), the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Montreal (FFH 336) and the Philippine patrol boat BRP Andres Bonifacio.

“Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region where aircraft and ships of all nations may fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows,” stated the statement. 

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuya Endo made a similar announcement about the “multilateral maritime cooperation activity” on his X account on June 17. 

It was the second time Japan joined such a maritime exercise this year, the first being in April when it held exercises with the U.S., the Philippines and Australia in the WPS. 

On June 18, the envoy said Japan stands with Manila and would cooperate with like-minded countries in “maintaining and enhancing the free and open international order based on the rule of law.” 

Manila is also expecting to sign within the year a visiting forces agreement (VFA), to be called “reciprocal access agreement,” with Japan.

Canada, which had deployed the frigate HMCS Montreal deployed in the WPS during the Ayungin incident, also condemned China’s “destabilizing actions.”  

“Canada condemns actions taken by China yesterday near Second Thomas Shoal, including the ramming and towing of PH vessels,” said Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines David Hartman. 

“These dangerous and destabilizing actions caused injuries and put at risk stability, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” Hartman added. 

In January, Canada signed a defense cooperation with the Philippines that is expected to result in another VFA.

The Philippines has had VFAs with the U.S. and Australia for decades, allowing the presence of foreign troops in Philippine territory.  

Like other diplomats in Manila, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu also took to social media to rebuke China for its “dangerous” and “illegal” actions, even when Chinese Premier Li Qiang was still in Canberra on an official visit.  

“Australia shares the Philippines’ deep concern at dangerous & illegal actions by China’s vessels near Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, causing injury, damaging Philippines vessels, and endangering lives & regional stability. States must act consistently with international law, including UNCLOS,” Yu said on X. 

Chinese bullying in Canberra

Australian media lambasted Chinese officials for trying to exclude Australian journalist Cheng Lei in an official event, whom China imprisoned on claims of espionage, from the view of cameras at the Australian parliament. 

Cheng later said she felt the two Chinese officials stood in front of her to block her from cameras because it would make Beijing look bad on Li’s trip — the first by a Chinese premier since 2017 — which was supposed to mend relations between the two countries. 

Australian media noted that Cheng was at the ceremony because she was working for Sky News Australia. 

Photo credit: iStock/ Jakraphong Pongpotganatam. Generic image of a group of colleagues joining hands.

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