Gazmin: Chinese ships haven’t bothered PH troops at Ayungin Shoal
MANILA, Philippines – Has China eased its blockade against the Philippines at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal)?
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a Senate budget hearing presided over by Senator Loren Legarda that the Philippine Navy has been able to conduct resupply missions on Ayungin Shoal without harassment from Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) vessels.
“Yes, we have access (to Ayungin Shoal),” Gazmin said when asked by Legarda.
Ayungin Shoal, where the grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre serves as a military garrison for a small detachment of marines, is one of the many marine features in the Spratly Islands that China claims to have “indisputable sovereignty” over through its nine-dash line claim.
“Our two recent resupply missions were not bothered by China,” Gazmin said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) previously said that China has an “overwhelming presence” in the South China Sea and has, on many occasions, used force to turn away Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal and Navy personnel from Ayungin Shoal.
The Philippines has challenged China’s nine-dash line claim by filing an arbitration case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. China refuses to participate in the case, insisting on “bilateral talks” on the basis of “historical facts.”
China is conducting massive land reclamation projects in several reefs in the Spratly Islands which are widely regarded as precursors to the construction of military bases.