PH boats return to supply mission after harassment by China
MANILA, Philippines—Philippine supply boats harassed by the China coast guard in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal last week headed back to sea on Monday (Nov. 22) to continue their mission, a week after the hostile act.
“The resupply ships left this morning Oyster Bay in Palawan and will reach (BRP) Sierra Madre tomorrow (Tuesday) morning,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.
He said Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian gave him assurance that the resupply mission will not be impeded. The Chinese ambassador, however, gave a condition for allowing the Philippine mission to go unimpeded. “But they requested no escort,” Lorenzana said in Filipino.
A Philippine Navy plane will monitor the boats once they reach the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, Lorenzana added.
The Philippines last week protested the blocking and water cannon attack by China coast guard on two Philippine civilian supply vessels ferrying supplies to Filipino troops stationed at BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal last Nov. 16.
The BRP Sierra Madre is a transport ship intentionally grounded in 1999 to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Navy.
No one was hurt in the harassment but the Philippine boats had to return after one of them suffered outrigger damage as a result of the water cannon attack.
Beijing issued no apology for the hostile act, doubling down on its sovereignty claims inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Chinese government insisted that the Philippine boats “trespassed” Chinese waters, which are within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said last week that the China Coast Guard only “performed official duties in accordance with law” and upheld “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order.”
The United States is closely keeping track of the developments after the incident, Lorenzana said.
The Philippine defense chief spoke with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin III, by phone over the weekend, to discuss “recent events” in the West Philippine Sea.
“He is interested and very concerned about what happened at Ayungin. But I assured him that we are exhausting every means to resolve the issue with the Chinese,” Lorenzana told Inquirer.net in a separate message.
Austin wanted to “be informed of situations when they arise,” he said.
According to a readout released by the US Department of Defense, Austin reaffirmed “the strong US commitment to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty” during the phone conversation with Lorenzana.
“They agreed on the vital importance of peace and stability in the South China Sea and pledged to stay in close contact in the coming days,” it said.
Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Philippines and US are bound to come to each other’s aid in case of an armed attack in the Pacific, including the West Philippine Sea.
Countries like Australia, Japan, Canada, France, United Kingdom and Germany have also expressed concern over the hostile Chinese action in Ayungin Shoal and reiterated their support to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 South China Sea arbitration ruling.
The arbitration ruling found as invalid China’s fictitious nine-dash line claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.