Philippines summons Chinese envoy over lingering ships in West PH Sea

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, April 13, said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian had been summoned over the “illegal lingering presence” of Beijing’s ships in the West Philippine Sea  

Huang, the DFA said, had been called in on Monday, April 12, where the Philippines expressed to him its “utmost displeasure” over the continuing presence of its ships around Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) and other maritime zones in Philippine waters. 

This is the first time Huang had been summoned after assuming his role as Beijing’s envoy to the Philippines in December 2019. It comes as tensions increased amid a renewed push by the Philippines to publicly challenge China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that belongs to Filipinos. 

During Huang’s appearance, the DFA reiterated that Julian Felipe Reef was in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, where Filipinos enjoy sovereign rights over resources. 

“DFA Acting Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso informed Ambassador Huang that Julian Felipe Reef lies within the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of the Philippines. The continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension,” it said in an official statement. 

The DFA had also reiterated the Philippines “firm demand” on China to ensure all its vessels were pulled out from the area of Julian Felipe Reef and other maritime features in West Philippine Sea. 

9 ships left

Since late March, Philippine diplomatic and defense officials have demanded China to “immediately withdraw” its ships from area, after over 200 its vessels were first spotted massed in Julian Felipe Reef and later scattered to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group.

On Twitter, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea informed him only 9 Chinese ships were left as of April 13. 

The NTF-WPS has stood by its assertion that the Chinese vessels in the area were manned by Beijing’s maritime militia due to its continued  presence in the area, despite showing no signs of "actual fishing activities.”

China’s embassy in Manila earlier dismissed the allegations as an “unnecessary irritation,” while Beijing’s foreign ministry had called on the Philippines to “stop wanton hype-up, and avoid casting negative influence on bilateral relations and the overall peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

In summoning Huang, the Philippines also raised the landmark 2016 Hague ruling, that struck down China’s historical claims in the West Philippine Sea. 

“Acting Undersecretary Buensuceso stressed that the July 12, 2016 Award the South China Sea Arbitration ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect,” it said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

The Philippines had also reminded Huang of “proper decorum and manners” in the conduct of their work after the Chinese embassy engaged in a word war with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana,  who called out China for shunning international law, particularly UNCLOS. 

On Tuesday, Locsin said the incursion of Chinese ships in West Philippine Sea “achieve nothing” in law and were a “distraction” from the “beneficial potential of the good relations” China and the Philippines saw under Duterte. 

“Our partnership has so much potential not just for our mutual but even more for the benefit of ASEA. What a waste of great opportunities for good. Let’s give it a rest,” he said. 

The DFA said both sides "agreed to lower the tensions and handle the issue diplomatically" after Huang's summoning.

The Philippines, since April 5, has lodged daily diplomatic protests against China over the lingering presence of its ships in the West Philippine Sea. It vowed one would be filed “every day” so long as China’s vessels remained in Philippine waters. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

image