The European Union has become the latest to voice opposition to the firing of Chinese water cannon at supply boats from the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, as the incident draws mounting criticism against Beijing.
“Last week, coastguard vessels of the People’s Republic of China blocked two Philippine supply boats on their way to Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles west of the province of Palawan (Philippines) in the South China Sea, and used water cannons against them. This episode follows other unilateral actions by vessels of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea over the past months,” the EU said in a statement published on Sunday.
“The European Union reiterates its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region and the international rules-based order.”
The Chinese diplomatic delegation to the EU hit back, saying the bloc’s remarks would only create a negative impact on regional peace and stability.
The EU statement followed Washington’s condemnation on Friday, which called the Chinese moves “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defence commitments. Ambassadors from Australia, Japan, Germany and France in the Philippines also issued short statements supporting Manila.
Beijing has been pushing for progress on the established of a non-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, after continuing conflicts with other claimants to the disputed waterway, which include Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Addressing Asean leaders at a virtual summit on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “joint efforts” to safeguard stability in the South China Sea and “make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation”.
The gathering marked the 30th anniversary of ties between Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Philippines’ boats were transporting food supplies to military personnel based on Second Thomas Shoal last Tuesday when they were forced to abort their mission, according to Manila, which said it had conveyed “in the strongest terms” to Beijing its “outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident”.
China’s foreign ministry said the two supply ships had entered what it views as Chinese waters without permission. According to a maritime law enacted by Beijing on September 1, all foreign vessels in the South China Sea are required to report to Chinese authorities. Manila said in September it would not abide by the unilateral rule.
Both the EU and US statements on the incident quoted the 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague which rejected China’s claims to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly archipelago, which it determined was part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Beijing dismissed the ruling and has sent hundreds of vessels to Whitsun Reef, also in the Spratlys, despite protests from Manila calling their presence “illegal” and “threatening”.