Philippines Snubs China's Demand To Remove Grounded Vessel From South China Sea Shoal

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An aerial view of Spratly Islands.

The Philippines has declined to remove its grounded naval vessel, BRP Sierra Madre, from the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea as demanded by China. This comes amid China's recent water cannon attack on Manila's supply ships heading for the disputed shoal. 

China had recently demanded that the Philippines "honor its commitment and remove the grounded vessel" on the shoal, reported Manila-based newspaper Inquirer. Second Thomas Shoal is known in the Philippines as Ayungin Shoal while China calls it Ren'ai Jiao.

The statement came a day after the Filipino boats reached the grounded navy ship to complete their resupply mission, which was earlier blocked by Chinese coast guard ships. 

"As far as I know there is no such commitment," Philippine defense chief Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by the news outlet. "That ship has been there since 1999. If there was a commitment it would have been removed a long time ago," he said.

The chief reiterated his statement in a Facebook post: "Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ where we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified."

He added that the territorial claim of China has "no historic nor legal basis" and Manila can "do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing."

Lorenzana added in Filipino, "We have two documents that prove we have sovereign rights in our EEZ while they have none and their claim is baseless."

The Philippines also used the opportunity to warn China that "a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty." According to former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, the Chinese attack on BRP Sierra Madre and the armed forces in Ayungin Shoal "would trigger the mutual defense commitments under the treaty where the U.S. and the Philippines will act to meet [such] common danger’ instigated by China."

BRP Sierra Madre was deliberately grounded at the shoal, which is claimed by various other nations, in 1999 in response to the Chinese reclamation of Mischief Reef. Manila has kept a small contingent of its navy personnel based on the ship ever since to underline its claim that the shoal is within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

In 2015, reports claimed the Philippines reinforced the rusting vessel's hull and deck of the ship using small fishing boats to slip "cement, steel, cabling, and welding equipment" past watchful Chinese coast guard vessels. 


Photo: Reuters/U.S. Navy

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