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China to PH: Remove ship from Ayungin

Paterno Esmaquel II
The Philippines 'is making unfounded countercharges by staging the so-called protest,' the Chinese Foreign Ministry says

SEA BASTION. This undated handout photo released by the Philippine Government on May 23, 2013 shows an aerial view of BRP Sierra Madre, a 100-meter (328 foot) amphibious vessel built for the US in 1944 and acquired by the Filipino navy in 1976, grounded at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. AFP Photo/Philippine Government

MANILA, Philippines – A day after Manila filed another protest against Beijing, China urged the Philippines to remove its ship from the disputed Ayungin Shoal, which the Chinese call the Ren’ai Reef.

Beijing also said Manila “is making unfounded countercharges by staging the so-called ‘protest’” after the Chinese Coast Guard drove two Philippine ships away from Ayungin.

“Their argument, which distorts the fact and confuses right and wrong, lays bare the Philippines’ attempt to illegally occupy China’s Ren’ai Reef and stir up troubles in the South China Sea. It also shows that the Philippines always goes back on its word,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a media briefing Wednesday, March 12.

“China urges the Philippines to stop all provocative actions, make good on its commitment, tow away the ship grounded on the Ren’ai Reef, and take concrete actions to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Qin added.

China made this challenge after the Philippines on Tuesday, March 11, protested Beijing’s latest show of force in Ayungin. The shoal is located in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the subject of a historic case that Manila filed against Beijing. (READ: What’s at stake in our case vs China)

A stranded Philippine warship remains in Ayungin, and serves as a military detachment.

The Philippine military said Thursday, March 13, it had evaded a Chinese sea blockade by using an airplane to drop food to soldiers in Ayungin.

China: Ship ‘illegally grounded’

While the blockade is in place, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs urged China “to desist from any further interference with the efforts of the Philippines to undertake rotation and resupply operations” in Ayungin.

The DFA also said civilian vessels contracted by the Philippine Navy “were only conducting rotation of personnel and resupply operations.”

Qin on Monday, March 10, said the Philippine ships “were loaded with construction materials.”

“A Philippine ship illegally ‘grounded’ on China’s Ren’ai Reef in 1999, with the excuse of ‘malfunction.’ Since then, China has been demanding the Philippines to tow away the ship,” Qin said.

“However, the Philippine side refuses to go under the pretext of ‘technical reasons.’ It now attempts to carry out construction work on the Ren’ai Reef,” he added, as he said the Philippines’ behavior “has infringed upon China’s territorial sovereignty.”

US: ‘Provocative move’

The United States, for its part, said it is “troubled” by the Ayungin incident.

“This is a provocative move that raises tensions. 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,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The show of force happened less than a month after the Armed Forces of the Philippines revealed the so-called “water cannon incident” also involving the Chinese.

In this incident, China reportedly drove away Filipino fishermen from the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal using a water cannon. (READ: ‘Even during storms, China harassed Filipinos’)

Manila is considering to use the so-called water cannon incident in its historic case against Beijing, Philippine Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said.

The deadline for the Philippines’ memorial, or written pleading in the case, is on March 30. (READ: PH faces major hurdle in China case)

China proposed incentives to stop the Philippines from submitting this, sources told Rappler. Observers warned about possible sanctions from China once the Philippines files this document. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.