MANILA – The United States government on Monday reaffirmed its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in the wake of China’s latest blocking maneuvers near Ayungin Shoal that led to a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel coming into contact with a Philippine resupply boat.
The US government said it stands with the Philippines “in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard and maritime militia’s dangerous maneuvers” in the South China Sea.
“The United States reaffirms that Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” the State Department said in a statement.
A CCG vessel collided with a Philippine supply boat, which was on a regular rotation and resupply mission to the detachment manning the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on Oct. 22.
The US reminded Beijing that interfering with the Philippines’ maritime operations in its waters is unlawful and “undermines” stability in the region.
“By conducting dangerous maneuvers that caused collisions with Philippine resupply and Coast Guard ships, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) Coast Guard and maritime militia violated international law by intentionally interfering with the Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation,” it said.
“Obstructing supply lines to this long standing outpost and interfering with lawful Philippine maritime operations undermines regional stability,” it added.
The statement came as Beijing released its side of the story, claiming its action in the area was “professional and restrained”.
On the night of the incident, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the CCG ships were “conducting law enforcement on the scene” and admitted that Chinese fishing vessels were present and “having normal fishing activities there”.
The Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, is a feature situated well within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
China's latest harassment in the area follows its use of a water cannon on a Philippine vessel on Aug. 5.
‘PH to protect national interest’
National Security Adviser Secretary Eduardo Año affirmed on Sunday Manila’s commitment to protecting and securing the Philippines’ interest in the West Philippine Sea despite the “provocations”.
“We will not be deterred and we will continue to resupply our troops in BRP Sierra Madre despite provocations,” he said.
Reacting to the incident, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM), said: “Through the years, our resupply sorties have always been regular and routinary. Our sailors have met Chinese vessels’ dangerous maneuvers with utmost patience, competence, and professionalism to avoid any accidents or untoward incidents.”
Newly appointed Philippine Coast Guard commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, said the importance of the recent resupply mission's success, though partial, demonstrated the AFP’s and PCG's “capability to manage and overcome provocative, irresponsible, and reckless conduct from their Chinese counterparts in a professional and resolute manner, without escalating tensions.”
Two incidents of CCG and militia vessel's dangerous maneuvering resulted in the collisions with supply boat Unaiza May 2 and BRP Cabra.
The PCG reported that the crew members of the Philippine vessels involved in the collisions were safe and unharmed. (With reports from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)