Beijing defends Philippine action in South China Sea

Updated: 2014-03-13 12:56

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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China has defended its actions on Sunday regarding two Philippine vessels near the Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea as the US State Department called the Chinese move provocative.

In a statement on Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US is troubled by reports that China's Coast Guard blocked efforts by two Philippine vessels to re-supply the Philippine outpost at the Second Thomas Shoal, called by China as Ren'ai Reef, and Ayungin Shaol by the Philippines.

"This is a provocative move that raises tensions. Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo," she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang had dismissed reports that the Philippine ships were to re-supply the outpost. He said the two Philippine-flagged ships which were approaching the Ren'ai Reef on March 9 were loaded with construction materials.

The China Coast Guard vessels spoke through an amplifier with these two ships, and the Philippine ships left the waters off the Ren'ai Reef on the very afternoon, Qin told the daily briefing on Monday.

At the daily briefing on Wednesday, Qin said China's foreign ministry has summoned the head of the Philippine embassy in China to lodge "solemn representation on this event."

He described the Philippine protest, in which the Philippine foreign ministry summoned China's envoy in Manila, as "running against the fact and exposing the Philippines' intention to illegally occupy the Ren'ai Reef and to trigger conflict in the South China Sea".

"It is known to all that China has sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their surrounding waters, including the Ren'ai Reef," Qin said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said a Philippine ship illegally "grounded" on China's Ren'ai Reef of China's Nansha Islands in 1999, with the excuse of "malfunction". Since then, China has been demanding the Philippines to tow away the ship.

However, the Philippine side has refused to go under the pretext of "technical reasons" and it now attempts to carry out construction work on the Ren'ai Reef, according to Qin.

"The behavior of the Philippine side has infringed upon China's territorial sovereignty and blatantly violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and ASEAN countries. China cannot but make necessary response," Qin said.

On Wednesday Qin repeated China's urging that the Philippine side stop provocative behavior, tow away the grounded vessel there and honor the DOC with practical actions.

Shen Dingli, professor and associate dean of the Institute of International Studies at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said the Philippine action is not legitimate because the place belongs to China.

"China has right not to allow any others to access to it, let alone to stay there and to build up there," Shen told China Daily on Wednesday.

The US has been caught by maritime territorial disputes in both the South and East China Sea.

On the one hand, the US wants to ensure its allies in the region that the US will keep its supremacy in the region and they can still count on US protection. On the other hand, the US does not want to see itself being dragged into unintended conflict with China, which could be disastrous to the two nations, the region and the world.

Many Chinese analysts believe the provocative actions taken by the Philippines over the years were partly emboldened by the US, especially after the US launched its rebalance strategy to the Asia-Pacific region four years ago.

While the US has shown its concern over the freedom of navigation in the region, some analysts both in China and the US have argued that this is speculative because China needs an open sea lane there as much as any other nation.

(China Daily USA 03/13/2014 page1)