Philippines summons Chinese diplomat over South China Sea flare-up

Philippines summons Chinese diplomat over South China Sea flare-up

MANILA (Reuters) : The Philippines summoned a Chinese diplomat on Thursday to protest Beijing’s use of water cannon against Filipino vessels at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, describing it as harassment and “dangerous manoeuvres”.

Its foreign ministry said the deputy chief of mission was summoned to hear the 20th protest made by the Philippines against China this year, one of 153 under the current administration, over the conduct of its coast guard and fishing vessels that Manila maintains are militia.

“The Philippines protested the harassment, ramming, swarming, shadowing and blocking, dangerous manoeuvres, use of water cannons, and other aggressive actions of China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia,” it said in a statement, urging the boats to leave the waters immediately.

The Philippines has accused China of elevating tensions in the South China Sea after its coast guard used water cannon and damaged two of its vessels while en route to the Scarborough shoal on Tuesday to assist Filipino fishermen.

The shoal, which has been occupied by China for more than a decade, has been flashpoint between the Philippines and China on and off for years. Tensions have escalated there recently as the Philippines takes a more assertive approach in disputed areas, while strengthening alliances with the United States and Japan.

A prime fishing patch used by several countries and close to major shipping lanes, the shoal falls inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and is claimed by China, though no country has sovereignty over it.

China’s embassy in Manila on Wednesday said the atoll had always been China’s territory and urged the Philippines to cease infringements and provocations and not “challenge China’s resolve to defend our sovereignty”.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

An international tribunal in 2016 said China’s expansive claim had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.