China: Ayungin trip betrays PH intent

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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It's a 'political provocation' that works against Manila's interests, Beijing says

PHILIPPINES' GUARDIAN. An aerial view shows a Philippine Navy vessel that has been grounded since 1999 to assert their nation's sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef also claimed by China, on March 29, 2014. Photo by Jay Directo/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – China on Monday, March 31, denounced the trip by Filipino journalists to the disputed Ayungin Shoal as a “provocation” that betrays Manila’s purpose in bringing Beijing to court.

Speaking to Chinese reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also questioned the timing of the trip on Saturday, March 29, a day before the Philippines filed a 4,000-page written pleading against China’s expansive claims over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). (READ: PH strikes back, files pleading vs China)

“It fully demonstrates that the purpose for the Philippines’ willful pursuit of the international arbitration is to cover up its illegal occupation of China’s territory and trouble-making in the South China Sea. It is a political provocation by abusing international legal means,” Hong said.

He added this “provocation” shows that disputes over land, not water, lie at the core of the West Philippine Sea issue. The connection is unclear.

Hong said: “The Philippines’ provocation on the Ren’ai Reef (Ayungin Shoal) shows once again that at the heart of the South China Sea disputes between China and the Philippines are the disputes on the sovereignty over islands and reefs, which have been excluded from arbitration procedures provided for under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).” 

China, after all, insists on two basic arguments in seeking to demolish the Philippines’ case:

  1. The disputes involve land, which is not covered by UNCLOS; and

  2. The disputes involve the delimitation of maritime boundaries, over which it rejected arbitral proceedings in a declaration under UNCLOS in 2006

By raising these points, China questions the right of the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to hear the Philippines’ case. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int’l law and PH faces major hurdle in China case)

The Philippines, for its part, says the case is not about land but water. It also keeps it hands off the disputes that China excluded from arbitration. This means the tribunal has jurisdiction. (READ: What’s at stake in our case vs China)

‘Deliberately schemed’

DAVID VS GOLIATH. A Chinese coast guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a standoff as the Philippine boat attempts to reach Ayungin Shoal, a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. Photo by Jay Directo/AFP

In the media conference on Monday, Hong also criticized the trip as a build up to the Philippines’ filing of a 10-volume memorial against China on Sunday, March 30.

He called it a “deliberately schemed activity with the purpose of further hyping up the issue of the Ren’ai Reef, building momentum for its promotion of the international arbitration and serving its attempt to illegally snatch the Ren’ai Reef which is China’s territory.”

“The Philippine side will have to take the consequences caused by its provocative actions,” Hong said. (READ: PH warned about backlash from China)

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, on the other hand, said the trip aimed to resupply the Philippines’ personnel aboard the country’s stranded ship in Ayungin, the BRP Sierra Madre.

“Media was invited to observe for transparency,” Zagala said in a statement quoted by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda. Zagala invited at least 18 members of local and foreign media to the trip.

On Saturday, China ended up harassing a Philippine vessel again in Ayungin – for at least the 11th time since 2013.

It was “a provocative and destabilizing action” on the part of China, US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs has not issued a comment on China’s remarks as of posting time.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said his country is “not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests.” –


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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email