Philippines condemns action by Chinese coastguard in South China Sea

MANILA, Nov. 18 (Reuters) – The Philippines has condemned “in the strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coastguard ships that blocked and used water cannons on two supply ships from Manila en route to a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea, its top diplomat said Thursday.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said no one was injured in the Nov. 16 incident at Second Thomas Shoal, but the Philippine boats, which carried food to military personnel based there, have had to interrupt their mission.

“The actions of the Chinese coast guard are illegal,” Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States mutual defense treaty.

Locsin said he had expressed “in the strongest terms” to the Chinese ambassador in Manila “our indignation, condemnation and protest against the incident.”

Locsin warned that “Beijing’s lack of restraint threatens the special relationship” between the two countries.

“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must be careful and back off,” Locsin said.

Manila considers Second Thomas Shoal, which lies 105 nautical miles (195 km) southwest of the Philippine region of Palawan, as part of its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. It has been occupying the shoal since 1999 after it intentionally ran aground with a navy vessel on the reef.

China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea, says the reef is part of its territory, but a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for media comment.

China claims sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have also filed competing claims for some or all of the islands.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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