MANILA – The European Union (EU) and New Zealand joined calls to preserve a rules-based order in the South China Sea amid the reported "lingering" presence of Chinese fishing vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef last Tuesday.
EU Ambassador to Manila Luc Veron on Thursday said the bloc "stands by rules-based order" as he stressed the need for all parties to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
He also cited the statement made by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at a recent EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministerial meeting.
"We cannot allow countries to unilaterally undermine international law and maritime security in the South China Sea, thereby representing a serious threat to the peaceful development of the region," Borrell said.
New Zealand, meanwhile, urged parties to exercise "self-restraint, resolution of disputes by peaceful means, and undertaking cooperative activities to build trust and confidence" while it echoed calls for UNCLOS adherence.
The New Zealand statement was delivered during the 28th New Zealand-Asean Dialogue last March 23, where Manila reiterated its objection over the "continued provocative presence" of Chinese fishing vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippines said these vessels "not only infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction but threatens security and stability in the region."
Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States earlier expressed concern over actions that may raise tensions in the South China Sea.
This prompted a sharp response from the Chinese Embassy in Manila, with the latest directed at the diplomats of Australia, UK, and Canada.
"Neither these diplomats understand the basic facts, nor do they have the ability to think and judge independently. But they came out with irresponsible comments, using the same scripts," it said Thursday.
"If the so-called 'facts' are false from the beginning, you couldn't be more wrong to repeat the mistakes. Understand and respect the fact before you make any comments," it added.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian in a recent meeting told President Rodrigo Duterte that the Chinese vessels spotted off the Julian Felipe Reef within the country's exclusive economic zone were "seeking shelter".
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef last March 7. The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed on March 22 that around 183 Chinese vessels linger in the same area.
The reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. (PNA)