US troubled by Ayungin Shoal incident
MANILA—The United States expressed concern Wednesday over the “provocative” expulsion of Philippine vessels on a resupply mission at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal on Sunday, as it again called for respect for international law in the disputed waters.
In comments sent to the Inquirer, Brian Goldbeck, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Manila, said claimants in the South China Sea should observe the status quo as the parties pursue efforts to resolve what has been Asia-Pacific’s most contentious flashpoint.
“We are troubled by reports that China’s Coast Guard blocked efforts by two Philippine vessels to re-supply the Philippine outpost at Second Thomas Shoal. This is a provocative move that raises tensions,” Goldbeck said in an e-mailed statement.
“Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo,” he said.
China on Monday said it drove away two Filipino vessels at the Ayungin Shoal on Sunday as it suspected that the vessels were carrying construction materials.
The Philippines protested the act Tuesday, saying the shoal, where the Philippines has maintained a small military presence since 1999, is well within its exclusive economic zone. China dismissed the protest, again asserting “indisputable sovereignty” over territories within its nine-dash line that covers some 90 percent of the South China Sea.
“Freedom of navigation and overflight is a linchpin of security in the Pacific. Safe and unimpeded lawful commerce, freedom of navigation, stability, and respect for international law must be maintained,” Goldbeck said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the two civilian ships that were shooed away by Chinese Coast Guard vessels “through digital signboard, sirens and megaphones,” were contracted by the Philippine Navy for resupply relieve personnel posted on a rotation basis on the shoal.
Filipino troops are stationed at the shoal on a the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre, which was grounded there 15 years ago.
The Philippine side said it was the first time for China to interfere in the routine resupply.
The US said such routine activity was “consistent” with the status quo, citing that other claimant nations that maintain their own stations in other disputed islets “regularly resupply and repair their outposts without interference.”
“The regular resupply and rotation of personnel positioned in the South China Sea at locations that have existed since before the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea was issued by ASEAN and China in 2002 is consistent with maintenance of the status quo,” Goldbeck said.