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Philippines summons Chinese diplomat over ship’s ‘harassment’ in South China Sea

Manila summoned a senior Chinese diplomat to protest the China Coast Guard’s alleged “harassment” of a joint Filipino-Taiwanese research ship in the South China Sea in April, officials here said Tuesday, in a fresh dispute as a new president prepares to take power in the Philippines.  

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said it was taking diplomatic action against other recent incidents of Chinese ships allegedly accosting Philippine and Philippine-commissioned ships in the contested waterway.

Manila issued the statement days after the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank, published a report on “three rounds of coercion in Philippine waters” by Chinese ships.

In one of the incidents, a China Coast Guard (CCG) tailed the Legend, a research vessel with the Taiwan Ocean Research Institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology, as it mapped undersea fault lines in the waters northwest of Luzon Island in the Philippines from late March to early April, AMTI reported.

The Legend was jointly deployed by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences and the National Central University in Taiwan.

“The Department summoned a senior official of the Chinese Embassy in Manila to protest the harassment by CCG on RV Legend, which had been conducting an authorized marine scientific research (MSR) activity, with Philippine scientists on board,” the Philippine foreign office said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

In another incident in April, a CCG ship allegedly followed a pair of Philippine-commissioned ships conducting a seismic survey of an area within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS). That incident prompted Manila to halt all oil and gas exploration in both those areas in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

In April, Manila’s energy department ordered Philippine company PXP Energy to suspend exploration by contractors in SC 75 and SC 72, an area where it had planned to drill an appraisal well. The ships were forced to survey a different area to the east, and they left the Philippines several days later, the DFA said.

“The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs takes appropriate diplomatic action for violations of Philippine sovereignty [and] sovereign rights within our maritime jurisdiction,” the department said in its Tuesday statement.

“Only the Philippine Coast Guard has enforcement jurisdiction over these waters. The presence of foreign vessels following tracks that are neither continuous nor expeditious, that are not consistent with Article 19 of UNCLOS on innocent passage, are against the interests of the Philippines,” it said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The detailed reports of these activities are being reviewed for the filing of appropriate diplomatic action.”

‘Our territorial right’

These protests come on the heels of yet another DFA protest filed Monday on China’s “unilateral imposition” of a 3½-month fishing moratorium in areas of the South China Sea.

They also come as President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gets set to take over as leader of the country after President Rodrigo Duterte’s term ends on June 30.

Under Duterte, Manila and Beijing had a cozy relationship with the Philippine leader overlooking a 2016 international tribunal ruling affirming Manila’s sovereign rights to an EEZ and ECS in the South China Sea, and declaring Beijing’s sweeping claims to much of the entire sea invalid under international law. Beijing has rejected the ruling.

Manila has, in recent years, filed a series of diplomatic protests with Beijing over the presence of Chinese ships in Philippine-claimed waters.

Last week, Marcos vowed that he would assert the international tribunal’s ruling after taking office. He said there was “no wiggle room” on the issue of sovereignty – his strongest public comments so far about the dispute that involves China, the Philippines’ biggest Asian neighbor.

“We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It’s not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us,” he said.

“Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way. We are a sovereign nation with a functioning government, so we do not need to be told by anyone how to run our country.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.