China’s foreign ministry has repeated a call for the Philippines to remove a grounded World War II warship, which Manila uses as a makeshift military base, from a reef in the disputed South China Sea.
The renewed demand to tow the ship comes after the Philippines at the weekend accused China’s coastguard of firing water cannon at boats on a mission to resupply the Philippine garrison stationed on the grounded vessel.
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The BRP Sierra Madre – deliberately grounded in the late 1990s in an effort to check the advance of China in the hotly contested waters – has long been a flashpoint between Manila and Beijing.
“China once again urges the Philippine side to immediately remove the warship from Second Thomas Shoal and restore it to its unoccupied state,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
China, the ministry said, has communicated to the Philippines on the Second Thomas Shoal issue “many times” through diplomatic channels, but its goodwill and sincerity have been “ignored”.
“The Philippine side has repeatedly made clear promises to tow away the warship illegally ‘stranded’ on the reef,” a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said.
“Twenty-four years have passed, the Philippine side has not only failed to tow away the warship, but also attempted to repair and reinforce it on a large scale to achieve permanent occupation of the Ren’ai Reef,” the spokesperson added, using the Chinese term for the Second Thomas Shoal.
The Philippines promptly responded on Tuesday saying it would not abandon the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.
Jonathan Malaya, the assistant director general of the Philippine National Security Council, repeated comments he made on Monday: “The Philippines will never abandon our post in Ayungin Shoal”.
The Second Thomas Shoal is known as the Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines.
“We urge China not to escalate matters by water cannons or military-grade lasers, which places Philippines lives at risk, but by sincere negotiations and other diplomatic means,” Malaya said.
Later on Tuesday, China’s defence ministry urged the Philippines to stop all “provocative” actions in the South China Sea.
“China will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty,” the ministry said in a statement.
Manila summoned Beijing’s envoy on Monday after China’s coastguard on Saturday blocked and used water cannon against Philippine vessels carrying food, water, fuel and other supplies to Filipino military personnel stationed on the grounded vessel.
China maintained over the weekend that it had taken “necessary controls” against Philippine boats that “illegally” entered its waters and said on Monday it had been “professional and restrained”.
Second Thomas Shoal is about 200km (124 miles) from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000km (620 miles) from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
China’s coastguard and navy vessels, which routinely block or shadow Philippine ships patrolling the contested waters, said on Monday the country had told Manila not to send ships to the shoal and not to send “construction materials used for large-scale repair and reinforcement” to the grounded warship.
The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines said on Tuesday that China had no choice but to respond to the presence of the Philippine ships.
“China has been waiting for feedback from the Philippine side and hopes that both sides will start talks as soon as possible so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the relevant waters,” Ambassador Huang Xilian said.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which overlaps with the waters of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines.