Nov 18, 2021 - World

Philippine official warns Beijing after South China Sea standoff

Philippines' president Rodrigo Duterte center, during the arrival ceremony of the first shipment of Sinovac Biotech Ltd. coronavirus vaccine  in Pasay City, Manila, the Philippines, on Feb. 28.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Veejay Villafranca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Three Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannons on two Philippine boats carrying supplies for troops in the disputed South China Sea, Manila's top diplomat said Thursday.

Why it matters: Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a statement that Beijing should "back off" as it has "no law enforcement rights" in the region, pointing to protections for Manila under a mutual defense treaty with the U.S.

Details: Locsin said no one was injured in Tuesday's incident at the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, off western Palawan province in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, which is internationally recognized.

  • But he noted the Philippine boats had to abort their mission of transporting food to Filipino forces in the region. Locsin said Manila had conveyed its "outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident" to Beijing.
  • Karlo Nograles, a spokesperson for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a statement that the Philippine government would "continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our territory," per Al Jazeera.

The big picture: The South China Sea is a critical component of the Chinese government's plan to build a military proportional to its economic power.

  • Beijing claims most of the strategic waterway, where the governments of "China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims," AP notes.
  • China's government has fortified its military presence in the region, transforming "seven shoals into missile-protected island bases to cement its claims," per AP.

Of note: Vice President Kamala Harris noted in an August speech during a Singapore visit criticizing Beijing's actions in the South China Sea that its claims were "unlawful" — pointing to the 2016 international court ruling in the Hague that the bulk of the Chinese government's claims in the South China Sea did not have a basis in international law.

  • Chinese officials in Manila and Beijing did not immediately respond to the Philippine officials' comments.
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