MANILA — China on Wednesday reiterated its demand to the Philippines to remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre ship from Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press conference in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian justified Chinese troops being near the ship on Tuesday after Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana complained of their "intimidation and harassment" during a resupply mission.
Lorenzana said earlier that the Chinese coast guard sent a rubber boat near the BRP Sierra Madre and took photos and videos while the supplies were being unloaded for Filipino troops stationed in the grounded vessel.
Zhao, meanwhile, said the Chinese coast guard ship “patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law” as it monitored the resupply mission.
He claimed anew that Ayungin Shoal, known in China as Ren'ai Jiao, is part of China’s Nansha Qundao, the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands, which is also being claimed by the Philippines.
“Ren'ai Jiao is part of China's Nansha Qundao. China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its grounded vessel on Ren'ai Jiao. This position remains unchanged. This delivery of food and other supplies is a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations," Zhao said.
"The China coast guard ship patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law and monitored from start to end the Philippine side's supply delivery activities,” he added.
After China occupied the Spratly Islands' Mischief Reef in the mid-1990s, the Philippines ran the BRP Sierra Madre aground on Ayungin Shoal to assert Manila's claim to sovereignty in the area.
A small Filipino military contingent has been based in the rusty ship since.
Tensions over the hotly contested waters have spiked in the past week after Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at Filipino boats trying to deliver supplies to Marines stationed in BRP Sierra Madre.
Despite a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, Beijing has aggressively encroached and conducted military activities in the disputed waters.