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Philippines calls in Chinese ambassador over ‘aggressive actions

MANILA: The Philippines announced on Monday that it had summoned a Chinese envoy to address what it described as “aggressive actions” by the China Coast Guard and other vessels near a reef off the Southeast Asian country’s coast. In response, Beijing lodged its own complaint.

Deputy foreign ministers from both countries later held a phone call, during which China urged Manila to “pull back from the brink” and stop “provoking trouble at sea”, according to Beijing. China and the Philippines have a longstanding history of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, with recent confrontations near disputed reefs.

The most recent incident occurred on Saturday near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands during a routine Philippine mission to resupply troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded navy ship. The Philippines reported that the China Coast Guard blocked its supply vessel and damaged it with water cannons, resulting in injuries to three soldiers.

The China Coast Guard defended its actions as “lawful regulation, interception, and expulsion” of a foreign vessel that “tried to forcefully intrude” into Chinese waters.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Monday conveying its “strong protest against the aggressive actions undertaken by the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia” against the resupply mission. The Philippines demanded that Chinese vessels leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately.

In response, China’s embassy in the Philippines filed a complaint, accusing the Southeast Asian country’s ships of “illegal intrusion” into its waters.

In a subsequent phone call, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong emphasized that bilateral relations were “currently at a crossroads,” urging the Philippines to address China’s concerns and return to negotiations.

Second Thomas Shoal, located about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Palawan in the Philippines and over 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, has been the site of recent clashes between vessels from both countries.

The cooling diplomatic relations between the two countries come amid China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, which the United States, a longstanding ally of the Philippines, has denounced. Philippine Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro challenged Beijing to seek arbitration to resolve the dispute sustainably.

Despite the attack, the Philippine military managed to deliver supplies and personnel to the BRP Sierra Madre, ensuring the continuous operation of the outpost.- AFP

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