Philippines-China relations

Philippines tells China: ‘Leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately’

Bea Cupin

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Philippines tells China: ‘Leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately’

WATER CANNONS IN AYUNGIN. Two China Coast Guard ships train their water cannons onto the Unaizah May 4 (between the two Chinese ships), a wooden boat used to bring supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre.

Screenshot from PCG video

(UPDATED) Beijing’s Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong is summoned and told that 'China’s interference with the Philippines’ routine and lawful activities in its own exclusive economic zone is unacceptable,' says the DFA

MELBOURNE, Australia – The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday, March 5, demanded that “Chinese vessels leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately” as it summoned one of Beijing’s envoys to Manila.

The DFA, represented by Deputy Assistant Secretary Raphael Hermoso, summoned Beijing’s Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong after Chinese ships harassed, collided with, and used water cannons against Philippine ships on a mission to bring supplies and troops to a military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

“The Philippines demands that Chinese vessels leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately,” said the DFA in a statement.

DFA said the Chinese envoy was summoned “to convey the Philippines’ protest against the aggressive actions undertaken by the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia” during the mission to Ayungin Shoal.

As of posting, it remains unclear why it was only China’s deputy chief of mission and not Ambassador Huang Xilian, Beijing’s top envoy in Manila, who faced the DFA for the summon.

Two Philippine Navy-contracted civilian ships accompanied by two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels were harassed by China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) ships earlier on Tuesday while they were trying to reach the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II ship that was purposefully run aground in 1999 and now serves as a military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea earlier confirmed that four Filipinos on board the Unaizah May 4 were injured after two CCG ships used their water cannons on the much smaller wooden vessel. The wind shield of the Unaizah May 4 shattered from the force of the water cannons, the task force said. There was also a “minor collision” with a CCG ship.

The PCG, meanwhile, earlier said that the BRP Sindangan collided with a CCG ship as the latter was trying to block it during the mission. The Sindangan, a 44-meter vessel, sustained “superficial structural damage” to its hull.

“During the meeting, the Philippines stressed, among others, that China’s interference with the Philippines’ routine and lawful activities in its own exclusive economic zone is unacceptable. China’s actions in Ayungin Shoal infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” said the DFA.

Rotation and resupply missions (ROREs), happen monthly and as much as possible, via sea.

Through ROREs, the Philippine Navy is able to bring essential supplies to the handful of soldiers stationed at the Sierra Madre for months at a time. It’s also through that RORE that personnel are rotated.

China insists, mistakenly, that most of the South China Sea is its territory – including the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Beijing insists these waters are there, in defiance of a 2016 arbitral award that deemed the claim invalid.

“Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. In accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Award, it cannot be appropriated for sovereignty claims. International law affirms that the Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the feature,” the DFA reminded Beijing.

The incident in Ayungin Shoal happened as leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were welcomed in Melbourne for a special summit hosted by Australia, the first external partner of the bloc.

Australia is keen on strengthening its ties with the bloc, amid threats to Indo-Pacific security and growth.

Australian Ambassador to Manila HK Yu said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that “Australia shares Philippines’ concerns about dangerous actions by China’s vessels at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal today.”

Yu, who is also in Melbourne for the summit, added, “We call for restraint and respect for international law, particularly UNCLOS.” Maritime cooperation is among the major issues that host Australia has highlighted for the special summit.

In a statement posted late Tuesday evening, the Chinese embassy in Manila “expressed strong protest” over what it called the “illegal trespassing” on Ren’ai Jiao, China’s term for Ayungin Shoal. 

“Over the past few months, China and the Philippines maintained communication on properly managing the situation on the Ren’ai Jiao. The Philippines has once again reneged on its commitments to China, provoked incidents in the waters off the Ren’ai Jiao, and seriously violated China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” said the embassy, without specifying what those supposed “commitments” were. 

The embassy in Manila said of the use of water cannons and blocking maneuvers: “China Coast Guard took necessary regulatory actions on the Philippine vessels in accordance with the law. The response of China Coast Guard was professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful.” –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.