Yesterday, the Philippine government summoned China’s ambassador for the second time this year to protest the Chinese coast guard’s use of water cannons in a stand-off with Philippine vessels over the weekend.
The standoff occurred on Saturday in the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal, where a contingent of Philippine marines occupies the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II-era ship that was intentionally grounded on the shallow waters of the shoal in 1999.
According to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), six Chinese coast guard ships and two militia vessels blocked two Philippine Navy-chartered vessels from attempting to resupply the detachment of marines living on Second Thomas Shoal. During the stand-off, one supply boat was hit with a powerful water cannon by the Chinese coast guard, in an action that the Armed Forces of the Philippines said was undertaken “in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board and in violation of international law.”
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Teresita Dasa told a press conference yesterday that China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, was summoned earlier the same day by Theresa Lazaro, the country’s undersecretary for bilateral relations and ASEAN affairs, and handed him a diplomatic protest.
The protest condemned the Chinese vessels’ behavior, told China to stop interfering in legitimate Philippine activities and urged China to comply with its various obligations under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. In her comments to reporters, Dasa also noted the Philippines’ “disappointment” that the Department of Foreign Affairs could not reach its counterpart in China “for several hours” as the incident was happening. She added that Jaime FlorCruz, the Philippines’ Ambassador to China, also issued a protest note in Beijing yesterday morning.
This is the second time that Huang has been summoned by the DFA this year, following an incident in February, in which a Chinese coast guard ship reportedly a Philippine coast guard vessel with a military-grade laser during an encounter close to Second Thomas Shoal, temporarily blinding some of the crew. This, too, was successful in preventing the resupply of the marines stationed at the shoal.
China’s coast guard acknowledged its ships used water cannons against the Philippine vessels, which it said strayed without authorization into the area around the shoal, which it says falls under its expansive “nine-dash line” claim, despite sitting well within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
“In order to avoid direct blocking and collisions when repeated warnings were ineffective, water cannons were used as a warning. The on-site operation was professional and restrained, which is beyond reproach,” the Chinese coast guard said, according to The Associated Press. “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty.”
As I noted yesterday, these Chinese actions are just the latest incursions into Philippine waters, designed eventually to weaken Manila’s hold over the features that it holds. From 2020 to August 2023, the Philippines filed 445 diplomatic protests against China over assertive actions in the South China Sea, according to Rappler, 35 of which were filed this year.
The United States, the European Union, Australia, and Japan have all expressed support for the Philippines and concern over the Chinese actions since Saturday.