Washington — The United States called Sunday for Beijing to halt its “dangerous and destabilizing” actions in the disputed South China Sea, after a Philippine boat and Chinese Coast Guard ship collided near a contested reef.
Both countries traded blame after the incident earlier Sunday, the latest such confrontation in the contested sea.
The collision happened during a Philippine resupply mission to a tiny garrison on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, a flashpoint for Manila and Beijing — coming a day after another incident near Scarborough Shoal.
On both days Chinese ships “employed water cannons and reckless maneuvers, including forcing a collision, causing damage to Philippine vessels undertaking official supply missions to those locations, and jeopardizing the safety of the Filipino crew,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
The ships at Scarborough Shoal “also used acoustic devices, incapacitating the Filipino crew members, and drove away Philippine fishing vessels,” he said.
“These actions reflect not only reckless disregard for the safety and livelihoods of Filipinos, but also for international law,” Miller said.
Longstanding tensions between Manila and Beijing over the sea have flared in recent months following multiple incidents involving Philippine and Chinese vessels, including two previous collisions.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the shores of its neighbors, and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarized to reinforce its claims.
Miller said the tribunal’s 2016 decision “is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines.”
The US “calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct,” he added, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of these dangerous and unlawful actions,” he said, adding that a mutual defense treaty between the US and Philippines “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft –- including those of its Coast Guard -– anywhere in the South China Sea.”
The Philippines said one of its boats was “rammed” by China during the incident on Sunday. China’s Coast Guard, however, accused the Philippine boat of “deliberately colliding” with the Chinese vessel after disregarding “multiple stern warnings.”
Relations between Manila and Beijing have deteriorated under President Ferdinand Marcos, who has sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington and push back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea. AFP