- The Philippines is contemplating expelling the Chinese ambassador after a Chinese ship collided with three Philippine vessels near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
- The collision, which occurred on Saturday, was the latest incident in a long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries over the resource-rich waterway.
- The Philippines accused China of violating its sovereignty and international law, and demanded an apology and compensation from Beijing.
- China denied any wrongdoing and blamed the Philippines for provoking the conflict.
The Philippines is mulling over expelling the Chinese ambassador to Manila after a Chinese ship collided with three Philippine vessels near a contested reef in the South China Sea, escalating the tension in the region.
The collision, which took place on Saturday near Whitsun Reef, also known as Julian Felipe Reef by the Philippines and Niu’e Jiao by China, was the latest episode in a long-standing dispute between the two countries over the sovereignty and maritime rights in the strategic waterway.
The Philippines said that the Chinese ship, which it identified as a coast guard vessel, had “harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous manoeuvres” against the Philippine boats, which were conducting maritime patrols and exercises in the area. The Philippines also said that the Chinese ship had ignored radio calls and warning signals from the Philippine vessels.
The Philippines condemned the incident as a “blatant infringement” of its sovereignty and a “clear violation” of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines demanded an apology and compensation from China for the damage and injury caused by the collision. It also called on China to respect its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and to refrain from further actions that could endanger peace and stability in the region.
China, however, denied any wrongdoing and blamed the Philippines for instigating the conflict. China said that its ship was performing “normal law enforcement activities” in waters under its jurisdiction, and that it had acted in a “professional and responsible manner” to avoid a collision.
China also accused the Philippines of violating its sovereignty and security by sending military vessels to the reef, which it claimed as part of its territory. China said that it had lodged “stern representations” with the Philippines and urged it to stop its “illegal provocations” and withdraw its vessels from the area.
China also reiterated its position that the 2016 arbitration ruling, which was initiated by the Philippines, was “illegal and invalid” and had “no binding force”. China said that it was willing to resolve the dispute with the Philippines through dialogue and consultation on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law.
The South China Sea is a vital waterway for global trade and security, as well as a rich source of fish, oil, and gas. It is also one of the most contested regions in the world, with several countries, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, claiming overlapping parts of the sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, based on its historical rights and its nine-dash line, which was first drawn by the Republic of China in 1947 and later adopted by the People’s Republic of China. China has also built artificial islands and military facilities on some of the reefs and shoals in the sea, asserting its presence and control.
The Philippines, on the other hand, claims parts of the South China Sea within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as defined by UNCLOS, which it ratified in 1984. The Philippines also bases its claims on the 2016 arbitration ruling, which was issued by a tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, under the auspices of UNCLOS.
The ruling, which China refused to participate in or recognize, rejected China’s nine-dash line and historical rights, and affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its maritime zones. The ruling also declared that none of the features in the Spratly Islands, where Whitsun Reef is located, were entitled to a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.
The ruling, however, did not address the issue of sovereignty over the features, which remains a matter of dispute among the claimants. The ruling also did not prevent the parties from engaging in cooperative activities, such as fishing, in the area, as long as they were consistent with UNCLOS and the ruling.
The Philippines and China have tried to manage their dispute through bilateral talks and confidence-building measures, such as the establishment of a joint oil and gas exploration committee and a joint coast guard committee. However, the recent collision has raised doubts about the effectiveness and sincerity of these efforts, and has increased the risk of further confrontation and escalation in the South China Sea.