The Philippines had earlier made a commitment to China to remove its naval ship from Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea and it hasn’t done so, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
The Chinese foreign ministry made this statement in response to claims made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that China continues to harass and intimidate the Philippine transport boat that carried food supplies to soldiers stationed in Ayungin Shoal.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian insisted Ayungin Shoal (international name: Second Thomas Shoal, Chinese name: Ren’ai Jiao) is “part of China’s Nansha Qundao” or South China Sea.
“China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its grounded vessel on Ren’ai Jiao. This position remains unchanged,” Zhao said during a media briefing yesterday in Beijing.
In 1999, the Philippines, despite its lack of naval flotilla to monitor the country’s vast coastline, had deliberately run aground its vintage ship BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal. It happened five years after Manila discovered Beijing’s occupation and reclamation of Panganiban Reef (international name: Mischief Reef), some 40 kilometers away west of Ayungin Shoal. A small contingent of Marine soldiers are deployed to guard the shoal ever since.
Last week, three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and fired a water cannon on two Philippine fishing boats en route to Ayungin Shoal. President Duterte protested this incident during the Asean-China summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in attendance.
This week, the Philippine supply boat resumed its resupply mission, was able to pass through the area without being water cannoned, and delivered the food provision for the Philippine soldiers. But Lorenzano complained that the Chinese Coast Guard still deployed a team on a tugboat near the shoal and took pictures and video of the unloading of food supplies.
Zhao insisted that China is merely allowing the Philippine transport boat to pass through Ayungin Shoal “out of humanitarian considerations” and that the access provided to the Philippine boat “is a provisional and special arrangement.”
“The China Coast Guard ship patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law and monitored from start to end the Philippine side’s supply delivery activities,” he said.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to make an official statement if there was a commitment made to China to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.