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US warns China against ‘intimidation’ of Philippines in South China Sea

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
May 05, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China should stop its “unacceptable” harassment of Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, a senior American official said Wednesday, while pledging Washington will stand with its staunch ally against any intimidation from Beijing in the disputed waterway.

The comments from Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, come shortly after a near-collision between Philippine and Chinese vessels and as Ferdinand Marcos Jr. makes the first official visit by a Philippine president to Washington in more than a decade.

“This is really a very important issue, and we remain deeply concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s continued intimidation and harassment of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Kritenbrink told reporters in an online press briefing from the White House.

“You have such actions that are truly unacceptable. We stand with the Philippines in the face of Chinese Coast Guards’ ongoing infringement and harassment.”

On April 23, two China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels intercepted Philippine patrol boats and “exhibited aggressive tactics” near Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.

At one point, CCG 5201 came within 50 yards (46 meters) of a Philippine ship, it said. Another China Coast Guard ship “persistently followed BRP Malabrigo” at a distance of 700 yards (640 meters).

Beijing has said the Philippine vessels trespassed into waters near Ren’ai Reef, the Chinese name for Ayungin Shoal, and had dangerously approached a Chinese vessel.

China has competing claims in the South China Sea with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. In 2016, an international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and against the sweeping “nine-dash line” by which Beijing asserts its maritime claims in the strategic waterway, but China has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

Kritenbrink said the U.S. would continue to monitor China’s “provocative” conduct in the South China Sea.

“But most importantly, we will continue to stand with our Filipino allies and we will continue to operate together,” he said.

The U.S. has committed to defend the Philippines in case of any armed attack on its military, public vessels or aircraft, under the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

During the digital press briefing, Kritenbrink also responded to claims from Chinese officials that the U.S. is dragging Manila into potential conflict over Taiwan by allowing greater American access to local bases under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“The fact that friends in Beijing would issue a statement somehow expressing concern about that, I think it is not worthy but also somewhat puzzling,” he said. “I am confident that the U.S. and the Philippines share a vision for a peaceful and stable region.

“We support the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo by either side and we insist that cross trait differences be resolved peacefully. Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is a matter of international concern.”

Marcos’ visit to the U.S. signals improving bilateral ties after his immediate predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, cultivated warmer relations with Beijing.

Marcos and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed a wide range of issues in Washington earlier this week, including food security, climate change, trade and investment, and defense cooperation.

On Tuesday, Washington announced it intended to transfer two island-class and two protector-class patrol vessels and three C-130H to support the Philippines modernize its maritime and tactical lift capabilities.