Philippines summons China ambassador after South China Sea confrontations

Government says might also consider expelling ambassador as tensions spike over disputed waters.

The Philippines resupply boat being towed by the coast guard after the incident with China
A Philippine Coast Guard ship tows a Philippine resupply vessel after the incident near Second Thomas Shoal [Handout/Philippine Coast Guard via Reuters]

The Philippines has said it summoned China’s ambassador and was considering the possibility of expulsion after two confrontations with Chinese ships over the weekend in the disputed South China Sea.

Manila said its vessels were hit by Chinese water cannon on Saturday as they tried to send supplies to Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, which was seized by Beijing in 2012 after a months-long stand-off.

On Sunday, meanwhile, ships trying to resupply sailors on board the grounded Sierra Madre on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands were also hit by water cannon, amid a collision with the Chinese coastguard that Beijing blamed on Manila.

Pictures shared on social media showed the Philippines’ boats had broken windows and damaged decks from the incident.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Teresita Daza told a news conference on Monday that Manila had filed new diplomatic protests over the incidents and “the Chinese ambassador has also been summoned”.

Declaring China’s ambassador Huang Xilian as “persona non grata” in the Philippines was also “something that has to be seriously considered”, she told reporters.

Daza’s comments came after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr promised to ensure Manila’s claims in the waters were defended.

“The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese Maritime Militia against our vessels and personnel over the weekend have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” Marcos said in a statement posted in his social media accounts late on Sunday evening.

Artificial islands, militarisation

The incidents in the disputed sea, which China claims almost in its entirety, drew criticism from the United States, a close ally of Manila, and Europe.

The US State Department said China had engaged in “reckless maneuvers” and called on Beijing to end its “dangerous and destabilising conduct” in the sea.

“These actions reflect not only reckless disregard for the safety and livelihoods of Filipinos, but also for international law,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, noting that an international court had dismissed China’s expansive claims in a legally binding ruling in 2016.

Sweden also referenced the 2016 ruling and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral ruling, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the incidents over the weekend.

UNCLOS affords each country an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending for 200 nautical miles from their shore.

Marcos Jr noted that Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin in the Philippines, was within the Philippines’ EEZ and that “any foreign claim of sovereignty over it is baseless and absolutely contrary to international law.”

Scarborough Shoal, meanwhile, lies about 200km (124 miles) from the nearest Philippines island and some 1,000km (620 miles) from China’s southern island of Hainan.

China maintains that the Philippines was to blame for the confrontation and that the Philippine supply boats ignored “multiple stern warnings”.

China has been building artificial islands and military outposts, and deploying the coastguard, maritime militia and fishing fleets to assert its claim to the South China Sea.

Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea and have also seen tensions rise with Beijing in recent years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies