By Glen S. Ramos
MANILA — The U.S. State Department in a statement Wednesday (24 March 2021), stated that they are standing by the Philippines in its latest run-in with China over a disputed sea territory.
“The U.S. stands with our ally, the Philippines, regarding concerns about the gathering of [Chinese] maritime militia vessels near Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef). We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” State Department spokesman Ned Price stated.
China’s claims over the Spratly Group of Islands are not recognized by the United States and the latter conducts frequent freedom-of-navigation patrols in the disputed waters.
In 2016, an international tribunal rejected the claims of China in most of the South China Sea territory but Beijing ignored the ruling and built military facilities on seven of the disputed Spratly sites.
The recent incursion by China in the territorial waters of the country by placing over 220 Chinese fishing vessels near Julian Felipe Reef in the Spratly Islands infringes the nation’s sovereignty and threatens the political instability between the two countries.
Julian Felipe Reef lies only 175 nautical miles west of the Philippine province of Palawan, and inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has been at odds with China over their respective claims to the Spratlys.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stated that the ships’ presence is a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area” and China must recall them immediately.
However, the Chinese Embassy in Manila refuted the US statements through its tweeter on Wednesdays saying that “the United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue. Fanning flames and provoking confrontation in the region will only serve the selfish interests of individual country and undermine the regional peace and stability.”
It added that “both China and the Philippines are sovereign and independent countries. We have the will, wisdom, and ability to properly handle relevant issues through bilateral channels.”
Meanwhile, the Japanese embassy on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, also issued a statement stating that the South China Sea issues are directly related to peace and stability and concern for all.
“Japan strongly opposes any action that heightens tensions. We support the enforcement of rule of law in the sea and work with the international community to protect the free, open, and peaceful seas,” the Japanese embassy statement read in part. (AI|MTVN)