Philippines sends message to China: Leave Scarborough Shoal now

Camille Elemia and Jojo Riñoza
Philippines sends message to China: Leave Scarborough Shoal now The BRP Bagacay (center), a Philippine Coast Guard ship, is hit by water cannon fired by Chinese coast guard ships near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, in this frame grab from a handout video filmed and released April 30, 2024.
[Handout/Philippine Coast Guard/AFP]

The Philippines on Thursday demanded that China pull out immediately from a disputed South China Sea shoal, after the Chinese coast guard fired water cannon at Manila’s vessels near the area this week. 

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it summoned Zhou Zhiyong, the deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Manila, over the April 30 incident near Scarborough Shoal that damaged two vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

During Thursday’s meeting, the Philippines “demanded that Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc and its vicinity immediately,” the department (DFA) said in a statement.

The resource-rich Scarborough Shoal, known as Bajo De Masinloc in the Philippines and Huangyan Dao in China, lies within Manila’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone but has been under Beijing’s de-facto control for more than a decade.

Manila also protested the “harassment, ramming, swarming, shadowing and blocking, dangerous maneuvers, use of water cannons, and other aggressive actions of China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels” against the Philippine vessels, according to the DFA. 

“China’s aggressive actions, particularly its water cannon use, caused damage to vessels of PCG and BFAR,” the department said.

The Philippine Coast Guard pegged the repair costs for its ship damaged in the incident at PHP 2 to 3 million (between U.S. $34,700 to 52,000). It also said Manila would shoulder the cost of repairs.

On Thursday night, the Chinese embassy issued a statement responding to the Philippines.

China said it had “indisputable sovereignty” over the shoal and its adjacent waters, adding that Scarborough was always part of its territory, according to an embassy spokesperson.

The Philippine vessels “entered waters off Huangyan Dao on the 30th of April without Chinese permission, which seriously infringed on China’s sovereignty,” the spokesperson said in the statement. 

“[The] China Coast Guard took necessary measures to expel them in accordance with the law. The operations on the ground were professional, rational, reasonable and legitimate.”

The Chinese embassy in the Philippines also said Beijing had “lodged solemn representations” in Beijing and in Manila demanding that the Philippines stop “its provocation and infringement” immediately.

A rocket is fired from a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) from the coastal village of Campong Ulay, in Rizal town on the Philippine island of Palawan, during Balikatan military drills between the Philippines and the United States, May 2, 2024. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

This was not the first time Chinese vessels had used water cannons against Philippine boats near the shoal. Beijing also regularly used water cannons against vessels conducting resupply missions to Philippine troops stationed at the Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, another disputed territory.

The Philippines has consistently filed diplomatic protests against China over Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea. Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in July 2022, the government has lodged 153 protests, including 20 filed in the first four months of 2024.

Overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea have been a long-standing source of tension in the region, pitting China against Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

In 2012, the Philippines took China to a world court following a standoff over Scarborough Shoal, after Chinese ships and boats first occupied the area. In a landmark verdict issued four years later, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of Manila and dismissed Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims to the South China Sea. But China has refused to acknowledge the ruling, insisting on its historical claims over the waters.

The latest confrontation took place as Balikatan, the largest annual joint military drills between the U.S. and the Philippines, was underway, with some of the drills happening in Philippine waters that overlap China’s territorial claims in the sea.


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