Chinese threat in PH waters 'real, continuing': ex-DFA chief
MANILA — China reiterated Monday its rejection of the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea, noting that any efforts to challenge the Asian power's sovereignty and interests are "doomed to fail."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian issued the remarks when asked about President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement on the recent attack by the Chinese Coast Guard on Filipino supply ships at the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea last week.
Three Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed toward the Filipino-occupied shoal, drawing concerns from Philippine authorities and some countries. The 2016 arbitral award ruled, among others, that the Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
The West Philippine Sea lies within the resource-rich South China Sea. The arbitration court in The Hague rejected China's so-called nine-dash line, which the country uses to justify their presence in the disputed waters.
Beijing continues to shun the ruling, and instead ramped up militarization and has reportedly blocked fishermen and foreign vessels in the area.
Zhao claims China’s “territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea are supported by a solid historical and jurisprudential basis.”
The Chinese official also downplayed the recent incident, saying authorities in Beijing and Manila are communicating closely after the incident.
“The so-called South China Sea arbitration and ruling are illegal, null and void. All attempts at challenging China's sovereignty and interests are doomed to fail. The relevant sea areas in the South China Sea are in general tranquil," said Zhao in his regular press conference in Beijing.
"China and the Philippines are maintaining close communication,” he added.
At the ASEAN-China Special Summit on Monday, Duterte condemned the incident and said the government views the development with "grave concern."
He also emphasized that the 2016 arbitral ruling provides "legal clarity… pointing us to a just and fair solution to our disputes." Duterte earlier this year called the landmark award a piece of "paper" that belongs to the trash bin.
Malacañang acting spokesman Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles earlier in the day said the resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal was successful and no untoward incident happened.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said they spotted a Chinese Coast Guard ship in the vicinity, "which sent a rubber boat with 3 persons" near the country's BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship in the Ayungin Shoal.
Lorenzana said this happened while the boats were unloading the supplies.
"I have communicated to the Chinese ambassador that we consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment," said Lorenzana.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon earlier said there were 19 vessels near Ayungin Shoal recently and 45 near Pag-asa Island, another Philippine-occupied area.
THREAT TO PH WATERS 'REAL'
Former Former Secretary Albert Del Rosario, in a statement, said the recent developments in the West Philippine Sea should become an election issue in 2022.
The Ayungin incident, Del Rosario said, is an opportunity to invoke The Hague ruling against China as he noted the statements of the international community backing the Philippines.
"The Ayungin incident should be an opportunity and impetus to multilateralize the South China Sea issue and actively push for the enforcement of the 2016 Arbitral Award in the international community," he said.
Aside from this, he also described the Ayungin incident as an avenue to "concretize the applicability" of the country's Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.
The defense pact binds the two countries to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.
"The Ayungin incident is also an opportunity to... reinforce our security posture in the South China Sea, by developing credible self-defense capabilities for our country and improving on our security alliances with other States which believe in the Rule of Law and in promoting peace and security in the region," said Del Rosario.
The US last Friday reiterated that "an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty."
The Philippines has so far filed 211 diplomatic notes against China since Duterte came to power amid continuing incursions in the country's waters, according to the DFA.
— with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
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