MANILA, Philippines – China warned it can take "further actions" after the Philippines confirmed it is fortifying the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded ship on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"China once again urges the Philippines to immediately stop all illegal activities that infringe upon China’s sovereignty and maritime rights, and honor its commitment of towing away the vessel. China reserves the right to take further actions," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday, July 15.
China did not elaborate on the "further actions" it can take while the Philippines repairs the ship in the disputed sea.
The 100-meter (328-foot) BRP Sierra Madre was built during World War II then acquired by the Philippines in the 1970s. It is now incapable of sailing.
The Philippines is using the ship to assert its claim over the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Ground ship is PH's last line of defense)
On Wednesday, Hua explained that the Philippines promised "to tow away the illegally 'grounded' vessel on many occasions." (READ: China on Ayungin: PH broke its promise)
Hua said that still, the Philippines "schemes to permanently occupy" Ayungin Shoal, which China calls the Ren'ai Jiao, "by reinforcing the vessel."
'They are the troublemakers'
"The Philippines’ breach of its own promise to the international community discloses its hypocrisy and duplicity, and stands as another example that the Philippines is the real trouble-maker and rule-breaker in the region," Hua said.
Later, the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) hit China for calling the Philippines a "trouble-maker."
"I think they are the troublemakers and not us," DND public affairs chief Arsenio Andolong said.
DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said China's bullying "is a diversion" from their domestic issues. "They should listen to their peace-loving Chinese constituents who are calling for a stop to this bullying," he said.
Earlier, Philippine Navy spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo confirmed that the Philippines is doing "minor repairs" on the Ayungin vessel.
"It behooves the Philippine navy to ensure the ship's habitability and safety," the Navy spokesman said.
In an exclusive report, it said the Philippine Navy has used "wooden fishing boats and other small craft...to move cement, steel, cabling, and welding equipment to the BRP Sierra Madre since late last year." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.