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US stands with Philippines against Chinese ‘harassment and intimidation’ in South China Sea

Secretary Antony J. Blinken in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet on May 4, 2021. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)
May 19, 2023

The U.S. State Department recently reaffirmed its support of the Philippines following border intrusions by China’s Coast Guard in the South China Sea.

A press release from the department on April 29 called for Beijing to back down from recent interactions with Philippine ships.

“The United States stands with The Philippines in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s continued infringement upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” the press release stated. “Imagery and video recently published in the media is a stark reminder of PRC harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within their exclusive economic zone.  We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct. The United States continues to track and monitor these interactions closely.”

The release also referred to the nation’s longstanding defense treaty with the Philippines reaching back more than 70 years ago.

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” the statement added.

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The recent intrusions involved the Chinese Coast Guard stopping Philippine vessels near Second Thomas Shoal, a location 105 nautical miles from its coast.

The Philippine Coast Guard released a statement claiming that two Chinese ships made “a significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew,” Reuters reported. One of the two Chinese vessels “carried out dangerous maneuvers” about 150 feet from a Philippine ship.

In addition to the interaction with the two vessels, the Philippine government claimed that two other groups of Chinese ships were detected near Sabina Shoal and Julian Felipe Reef. In total, more than 100 ships were included in the count, offering a growing concern of Chinese aggression in the region.

The incidents have also led to calls from Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for an adoption of a Philippines-China “direct communication line” to avoid future concerns.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, though international groups have dismissed the claims as having no legal basis. The moves by the Chinese military add to ongoing issues related to Taiwan, where tensions remain high after then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island’s president despite threats related to the trip from the CCP.