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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Slamming Manila for “out-and-out provocation,” China accused the Philippines of breaking its promise to remove a stranded ship from the disputed Ayungin Shoal.
In a statement on Thursday, March 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the Philippines had made an “unequivocal commitment” to tow the ship away from Ayungin, which the Chinese government calls the Ren'ai Reef.
“However, the Philippines is yet to live up to its promise and haul away the rusty ship. To make matters worse, it sent two ships to transport construction materials to the Ren'ai Reef, with the aim of building facilities and 'maintaining a presence' at China's island,” Qin said.
He also belied a claim by the Philippine government that the ships “were only conducting rotation of personnel and resupply operations.” (READ: PH protests China's moves in Ayungin Shoal)
He said, “The two Philippine ships were loaded with concrete and rebar rather than food. Is concrete and rebar edible?”
The spokesman said the ship has been “illegally grounded" in the shoal since 1999. The vessel got stranded “with the excuse of 'malfunction.'”
“The behavior of the Philippine side has infringed upon China's rights and interests, and violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It is an out-and-out provocation. China has every reason to send away the two Philippine ships,” he added.
PH brushes off claim
In a statement on Friday, March 14, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) did not categorically deny China's claim, but said the stranded ship was placed in Ayungin before the Philippines signed a key declaration in 2002.
Under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signatories made the following commitment, among others: “The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
The DFA said the Philippines placed the BRB Sierra Madre, a commissioned navy vessel, in Ayungin in 1999. The ship was meant “to serve as a permanent Philippine installation in response to China's illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995.”
“The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” the DFA added.
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)
US slammed, too
Qin made these statements after the United States on Wednesday, March 12, said it is “troubled” by the Ayungin incident.
He said: “Comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity. It goes against US commitment of not taking sides on issues of dispute, has a negative effect on the maintenance of peace and stability of Southeast Asia, and in the final analysis, does no good to the US itself.”
Instead of heeding China's request, however, the Philippines is even preparing to send more civilian ships to Ayungin.
"I cannot tell you about the specific date, but what I can tell you is that's definite. It is not that we are trying to court China's ire. We do not want to starve our people to death or to thirst them," said an official who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the matter.
The official also denied that the two Philippine ships carried construction materials. “Those are items for the improvement of the living condition of our troops there, the habitability of the place," he explained.
He added, "We know who is continuously building structures there.”
China's show of force comes after the so-called “water cannon incident,” and before the deadline of the Manila's written pleading in its case against the rising superpower. (READ: PH faces major hurdle in China case) – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.