Philippines summons China envoy after water cannon incident in disputed sea

The move comes after Manila accused Chinese coastguard vessels of blocking and using water cannon against Philippine ships.

South China Sea
Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes over the South China Sea [File: Ted Aljibe/AFP]

Manila has summoned Beijing’s ambassador a day after Chinese coastguards blocked and used water cannon on Philippine vessels in the disputed South China Sea, according to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“Our secretary of foreign affairs summoned Ambassador Huang today and gave him a note verbale, including pictures, video about what happened and we are awaiting their reply,” Marcos told reporters on Monday.

The Philippines on Saturday accused China’s coastguard of using water cannon to block its vessels carrying food, water, fuel and other supplies for its military personnel stationed at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Manila condemned the actions as illegal, “excessive” and “dangerous”.

A senior Philippine official on Monday said Manila will “never abandon” the Second Thomas Shoal, which is about 200km (124 miles) from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000km from China’s nearest major landmass of Hainan island.

“For the record, we will never abandon Ayungin Shoal. We are committed to Ayungin Shoal,” National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya told reporters, using the Philippine name for Second Thomas Shoal.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

China said it had taken “necessary controls” against Philippines boats that had “illegally” entered its waters.

The Philippines says it will continue to assert its sovereignty and territorial rights in the South China Sea.

“The position of China, of course, is they say ‘this is ours so we are defending it’ and we, for our part, are saying ‘no, we own it so we are defending it’. So that becomes a grey area that we are discussing,” the Philippine president said.

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Lo, reporting from Manila, said four Philippine vessels were involved in the incident.

“Two of the vessels were chartered by the Philippine navy to supply provisions to the BRP Sierra Madre, which is a resting ship anchored at the Second Thomas Shoal. Two coastguard vessels were escorting the chartered vessels. About 90 nautical miles [167km] off Palawan six Chinese coastguard vessels and two Chinese fishing militia vessels started shadowing the vessels,” Lo said.

“All four Philippine vessels were water cannoned by the Chinese coastguard vessels. Thankfully no one was hurt and all four vessels did get back to Palawan safely,” he added.

Katrina Yu, reporting for Al Jazeera from Beijing, said China maintains the incident happened in its territorial waters.

“According to a statement released by China’s coastguard … Philippine ships illegally intruded into their territory and that it was completely within its rights as they did. There is no remorse whatsoever by Beijing. China says its actions were justified.

“This is not the first time a Chinese coastguard ship has used its water cannon against Philippine boats. A similar incident took place in 2021. We did have a close call between Chinese ships and Philippine ships recently, in June, where there was a near collision,” Yu said.

The United States Department of State on Sunday condemned the Chinese actions, saying they were carried out by the coastguard and “maritime militia” and that they directly threatened regional peace and stability.

The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the European Union also criticised Beijing’s actions.

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes over the South China Sea.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in power from 2016 to 2022, was reluctant to criticise his more powerful neighbour as he sought closer ties with Beijing in the hope of attracting investment.

Marcos has insisted since succeeding Duterte in June last year that he will not let China trample on his country’s maritime rights.

He has gravitated towards the US, seeking to strengthen defence ties with the Philippines’ former colonial ruler and longtime ally.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies