Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers a speech during a joint press statement with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (not pictured) at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines 31 July 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/AARON FAVILA/POOL

Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over water cannon incident

Manila, Aug 7 (EFE).- Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Monday that China’s ambassador in Manila was summoned to convey a diplomatic protest after the Chinese coast guard blocked and fired water cannons at Philippine boats in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo met the Chinese ambassador, Huang Xilian, to lodge a protest over the incident that took place on Saturday, Marcos said at a press conference.

“We continue to assert our sovereignty, we continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all of these challenges…consistent with international law,” the Philippine president said.

Marcos said that he and his cabinet will continue to explore other possible responses to the incident and added that, despite the tensions, the Philippines must keep communicating with the Chinese government to resolve the conflict.

Earlier, the Chinese coast guard said that it fired the water cannons at Philippine ships as a warning to avoid a direct collision.

In a statement on Monday, the coast guard said that despite repeated warnings, the Philippines sent two ships into the waters of Ren’ai Reef without authorization, in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to deliver building supplies for maintenance and reinforcement to illegally “grounded” warships.

The Chinese coast guard said that after giving repeated warnings, it used water cannons as a warning to avoid a direct collision, describing the operation as professional and restrained.

In a statement on Sunday, the Philippine coast guard had strongly condemned what it described as “dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons” by its Chinese counterpart against boats delivering food, water, fuel and other supplies to military troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal (as the Philippines calls Ren’ai Reef).

The distance of 200 nautical miles is the limit established by the United Nations to determine the maritime sovereignty of countries, according to a convention which China ratified in 1996.

“The PCG calls on the China Coast Guard to restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident,” it added.

In its statement on Monday, the Chinese coast guard said that the Ren’ai Reef has always been a part of the Nansha Islands” (as China calls the Spratly archipelago) and accused the Philippines of “violating” its sovereignty.

It said that the Philippines continued to send a large amount of construction materials there under the pretext of personnel rotation and delivery of supplies and had failed to respond to concerns expressed by China through diplomatic channels on the matter.

China will continue to take the “necessary” measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty, it added, urging the Philippines to accept its proposals to discuss specific measures to bring the situation under control.

China and the Philippines dispute the sovereignty of several islands and shoals in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.

China also has territorial disputes with Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei in the region.

Tensions between the two countries have escalated in recent months, with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. strengthening his country’s defense alliance with the US, reversing the approach adopted by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who favored closer ties with China.

The US Embassy in the Philippines issued a statement on Sunday condemning the “dangerous actions” of the Chinese coast guard and said that an armed attack on Philippine vessels, aircraft and armed forces would invoke the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty. EFE