China accused of “harassment” in South China Sea after vowing to back down

The Philippines has accused China of continued “harassment” in the South China Sea, three days after Beijing promised not to interfere with attempts to resupply a Philippine-controlled shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday that a small contingent of Philippine Marines was successfully resupplied with food and other provisions on November 23.

Vice Adm. Ramil Roberto Enriquez, who heads the Philippines’ Western Command, told the Inquirer that there was “no untoward incident” as two wooden-hulled boats reached Second Thomas Shoal at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

However, Lorenzana told the paper that a China Coast Guard vessel sent a three-man crew in a rubber dinghy to take photos and videos while the supplies were being unloaded at BRP Sierra Madre—a World War II-era naval vessel that was deliberately grounded on the reef to serve as a Philippine outpost in 1999.

“I have communicated to the Chinese ambassador that we consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment,” Lorenzana was quoted as saying.

Earlier in the week, Manila’s defense chief said China’s top envoy, Huang Xilian, had assured him on Sunday that Chinese ships “will not interfere.”

He also noted, with caution: “We will see if they are true to their word as our Navy will proceed with the resupply this week.”

The pledge not to interfere came amid several days of communication following a standoff near the South China Sea feature Manila calls Ayungin Shoal. On November 16, three Chinese coast guard ships blockaded Philippine supply boats and fired upon the smaller vessels with a water cannon, forcing the mission to be aborted.

It led Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to file a stern diplomatic protest two days later while also invoking the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty, which covers attacks on Philippine vessels in the contested South China Sea.

The U.S. State Department backed the Philippines on Friday by reaffirm its treaty commitments.

Second Thomas Shoal, which China calls Ren’ai Jiao, is located in the West Philippine Sea—Manila’s term for the eastern portion of the South China Sea that falls within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea by asserting sovereignty over every single feature in the waters inside its so-called “nine-dash line.”

A 2016 arbitration ruling in The Hague declared China’s extensive maritime claims invalid, but Beijing rejected the verdict of Philippines v. China in full.

The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has denied failing to consistently safeguard Manila’s territorial rights against China, although Duterte himself has hinted at the futile nature of standing up to Beijing.

A China Coast Guard ship (bottom) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a standoff as the Philippine boat attempts to reach Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014.
JAY DIRECTO/AFP via Getty Images

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