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South China Sea

Philippines slams Beijing for blocking ships in South China Sea

Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannons on transport vessels, Manila says

A Philippine flag flutters from the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded Philippine Navy ship at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines on Thursday condemned Beijing over an incident two days earlier in which the Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannons to block Manila's vessels in the disputed South China Sea.

Three Chinese Coast Guard vessels obstructed two Philippine boats transporting food supplies to Philippine military personnel at the Second Thomas Shoal, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a statement. No one was hurt, but the Philippine side had to abort its mission, he said.

Locsin lodged a protest over the incident, which he said "threatens the special relationship" between the Philippines and China that presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping "have worked hard to nurture."

"I have conveyed in the strongest terms to H.E. Huang Xilian, ambassador of China, and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident," Locsin said. "I reminded China that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty."

Manila occupies the Second Thomas Shoal, with a Philippine Navy ship it intentionally grounded on the reef in 1999 serving as its outpost. The shoal is located in the Spratlys, which the Philippines says is part of its exclusive economic zone.

"The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal," Locsin said. "China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off."

Beijing has yet to react to Manila's statement. China claims much of the sea, overlapping with areas claimed by not only the Philippines but also Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. In 2016, an international tribunal invalidated China's expansive claim in the strategic waterway -- a decision Beijing rejects.

Early this year, the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef and other parts of the disputed waters also triggered a flurry of diplomatic protests from the Philippines.

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