China urges Philippines to ‘act with caution’ amid South China Sea dispute

Tensions between the two countries have risen this year, with China attempting to disrupt Filipino ship resupply missions.

A jet of water fired from a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough Shoal
The Philippines has accused Beijing of dangerous actions in the South China Sea {Philippine Coast Guard via AP]

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged Manila to “act with caution” over the hotly-contested South China Sea as his Philippines counterpart Enrique Manalo noted the need for dialogue between the two countries.

Tension between Beijing and Manila over the waterway has risen in recent months, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal where Manila has accused the Chinese Coast Guard of dangerous actions against Filipino boats during regular resupply missions to sailors on the Sierra Madre, which was grounded there in 1999.

Manila has lodged dozens of diplomatic protests over China’s behaviour and earlier this month, summoned the Chinese ambassador after a collision between Chinese and Filipino vessels.

Wang and Manalo spoke by phone on Wednesday with China’s Foreign Ministry releasing a five-paragraph readout of the discussions – noting that Manalo had talked about Manila’s views on Second Thomas Shoal – but alleged that any spike in tensions was Manila’s fault.

“The root cause is that the Philippines has changed its policy stance so far, reneged on its commitments, continued to provoke and cause trouble at sea, and undermined China’s legitimate and legitimate rights,” the statement said. “China-Philippines relations are at a crossroads. Faced with the choice of where to go, the Philippines must act with caution.”

Second Thomas Shoal lies about 195km (121 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000km (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan island.

Beijing seized Scarborough Shoal from Manila after a months-long standoff in 2012. The shoal lies about 220km (137 miles) off the coast of the Philippines and falls within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to international maritime law.

In a brief statement, Manalo described the call with Wang as a “frank and candid exchange”.

“We ended our call with a clearer understanding of our respective positions on a number of issues,” he said in the statement. “We both noted the importance of dialogue in addressing these issues.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line.

After the Scarborough Shoal incident, Manila took its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The court ruled in 2016 that China’s claims had no legal basis but Beijing has ignored the ruling, doubling down on its claim by building artificial islands, establishing military installations and deploying its coast guard, maritime militia and commercial fishing fleet to the waters.

Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea and the latter two have also reported incidents with Chinese vessels.

Since Ferdinand Marcos Jr became the Philippines’s president in 2022, the country has revived its once close relationship with the United States, expanding a defence pact giving Washington access to more of its military bases.

In the call, Wang said Beijing was committed to dialogue but also issued a warning.

“If the Philippines misjudges the situation, insists on going its own way, or even colludes with malicious external forces to continue causing trouble and chaos, China will definitely safeguard its rights in accordance with the law and respond resolutely,” he said in the statement.

Source: Al Jazeera