Philippines-US relations

US envoy tells China: ‘Cease harassment of Philippine vessels’ 

Bea Cupin

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US envoy tells China: ‘Cease harassment of Philippine vessels’ 

US AMBASSADOR. MaryKay Carlson, the United States' representative in the Philippines, speaks at the East-West Center's International Media Forum in Manila on June 26, 2024.

US embassy in Manila

'When the United States sees our partners being bullied in their backyard, we speak up'

MANILA, Philippines – United States Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson on Wednesday, June 26, urged China to “cease harassment of Philippine vessels,” more than a week after Chinese harassment resulted in the mutilation of a Filipino soldier’s thumb.

“When the United States sees our partners being bullied in their backyard, we speak up. And we encourage others to speak up as well – and they are doing so. The chorus against threats to peace and stability in the South China Sea is growing louder and stronger each day,” said Carlson, speaking before an audience of journalists at the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Manila.

Carlson, who spoke after Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, said that the US along with “likeminded partners… who support the rule of law… urge the PRC to cease harassment of Philippine vessels lawfully operating in the Philippine exclusive economic zones.”

The US ambassador also called on China to “halt its disruption to states’ sovereign rights to explore, utilize, conserve, and manage natural resources in their territories and EEZs” and “end its interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of all states lawfully operating in the region.”

On June 17, the China Coast Guard (CCG) disrupted a routine Philippine military mission to rotate troops and bring supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded warship that serves as a Filipino military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

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CCG personnel rammed, towed, and boarded Philippine Navy rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) already moored beside the BRP Sierra Madre. One Filipino soldier lost his thumb during the melee.

The CCG also took seven disassembled rifles and destroyed the Navy equipment on board the RHIBs.

The Philippines has already sent démarches in Manila and Beijing. Philippine military chief General Romeo Brawner Jr., who said the CCG acted like “pirates” in Ayungin Shoal, has demanded that China return the rifles and pay for the damage it caused.

Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro Jr. described the action as an “aggressive and illegal use of force.”

“It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” Teodoro said on Monday, June 24, reading a statement issued by heads of the Philippines’ defense, security, and diplomatic agencies.

Carlson’s remarks Wednesday are not the United States’ first strong statement of support for the Philippines. Both the embassy in Manila and the State Department issued statements condemning China’s June 17 actions, and reiterated the coverage of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Top Philippine and US officials had also spoken to each other in the aftermath of the June 17 incident.

The Philippines and its former colonizer, the United States, are treaty-allies bound by the MDT and two other military agreements.

Washington had earlier reiterated – as it has in previous instances where China’s harassment had resulted in injuries – that the MDT covers attacks on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.

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“The 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling firmly rejected the PRC’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims, including any PRC claim to the area determined by the Arbitral Tribunal to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. We will continue to support the Philippines and other partners on these issues,” said Carlson.

China refuses to accept the arbitral ruling, which deemed its sweeping claim of the South China Sea invalid and affirmed the Philippine EEZ.

Ties between the Philippines and the United States have grown deeper in the past year under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The late dictator’s son and namesake has brought Manila back closer to its traditional ally, in contrast to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who preferred closer ties with Beijing.

Marcos had approved four new sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows American troops access to select areas in the country. It is also under Marcos’ watch that updated guidelines for the MDT were issued. – Rappler.com

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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.