MANILA - Australia, Japan, France and Germany expressed concern over the recent incident at the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea involving Philippine supply boats and Chinese Coast Guard vessels.
Diplomats of the four countries underscored again the importance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea, after Manila hit Beijing for blocking and using water cannon on two Philippine boats last Tuesday.
The United States, a defense treaty ally of the Philippines, had also slammed China's "actions asserting its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims", saying these "undermine peace and security in the region."
On Twitter, Australian Amb. Steven Robinson said Saturday his country is "concerned with recent destabilising incidents" in the South China Sea as he reiterated their support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, and an open and inclusive region."
"Compliance with the 2016 Arbitral Award and the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes based on international law, UNCLOS, are vital for peace and prosperity in the region," said Japanese Amb. Kazuhiko Koshikawa.
"Japan strongly opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East & South China Seas," he said, citing as well the waters where his country has disputes with China.
The ambassadors of France and Germany said their governments are calling on parties to "refrain from conduct that endangers stability" in the Indo-Pacific, which is the wider regional setting.
Expressing their "serious concerns on (the) latest incidents caused by 3 Chinese vessels against 2 supply boats in (the) #SouthChinaSea", France and Germany "firmly support dialogue between stakeholders on the basis of international law #UNCLOS", they added.
The Philippines and China are signatories to the 1982 UNCLOS, which allows for arbitration on maritime disputes. Beijing, however, did not participate in the arbitration case on the South China Sea filed by Manila as it insists on a bilateral approach, and has refused to recognize the 2016 ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims over almost the entire waters.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had said he conveyed "in the strongest terms" to China the Philippine government's "outrage, condemnation and protest" of the Nov. 16 incident at the Ayungin Shoal.
Citing a military report, Locsin said three Chinese vessels “blocked and water cannoned” two Philippine supply boats transporting food to military personnel stationed in the area.
"Fortunately, no one was hurt; but our boats had to abort their resupply mission," he said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed that the Chinese coast guard vessels only “performed official duties in accordance with law” and upheld what he said was “China's territorial sovereignty and maritime order.”
Locsin said "Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction."
The 2016 arbitral ruling affirmed this, said Jay Batongbacal, Director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
Ayungin is among nine features in the KIG occupied by the Philippines. The eight others are Parola Island, Pag-asa Island, Kota Island, Panata Island, Likas Island, Lawak Island, Patag Island and Rizal Reef. Presidential Decree 1596, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos on June 11, 1978, created the Kalayaan municipality and named the area as Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
"The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal. China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off," Locsin said.
In a statement last Friday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington stands with Manila "in the face of this escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability, escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order.”
The US also "reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty," he added.