China warns PH: No provocations after Ayungin Shoal expulsion
MANILA, Philippines — China issued a stern warning to the Philippines against “provocations” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) after two Filipino civilian vessels were expelled from the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) for allegedly transporting construction materials.
“China watches closely and is highly vigilant on further possible provocations in the South China Sea by the Philippines and it must bear all the consequences arising therefrom,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a press conference in Beijing Monday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) protested the expulsion of the two Filipino civilian vessels that occurred on March 9 in Ayungin, 105 nautical miles from the coast of Palawan. The protest was flatly rejected by China.
DFA claimed that the ships were contracted by the Philippine Navy to conduct troop rotation and resupply operations for the small detachment of marines deployed on the shoal, which is part of the hotly disputed Spratly group of islands.
The marines are sheltering in a rusted World War II era ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, that was intentionally grounded on Ayungin in 1999 in response to China’s physical occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995.
Hong said that the Philippines has previously made “unequivocal commitment on many occasions” that Sierra Madre will be removed from the shoal but has not fulfilled that promise.
“But what we see now is that the Philippine side rejects to tow away the ship, further more, it tries to transport concrete and rebar and other construction materials with a purpose of building facilities on the reef,” Hong said.
“As a country, the Philippines should honor its commitment. Otherwise, it will lose credibility to the international community,” he said.
China has built several permanent structures such as concrete buildings, radar stations, helipads, docks, etc., on at least six features on the Spratly islands: Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson South Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef.
China said the entire South China Sea through its nine-dash line claim that included parts of the Philippines 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has filed for an arbitration case against China before the United Nations International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Philippines is set to submit its memorial by March 30 while China has refused to participate in the proceedings.
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