China, Philippines clash over grounded World War II-era ship at Ayungin Shoal

Beijing also repeated its exhortation to Manila to stop its resupply mission to the vessel, BRP Sierra Madre.


Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian and Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

August 10, 2023

MANILA – China on Tuesday reiterated its earlier claim that the Philippines had promised to take out the World War II-era warship it had grounded since 1999 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal — prompting an official to assert the contrary and question Beijing’s credibility about its claim.

Beijing also repeated its exhortation to Manila to stop its resupply mission to the vessel, BRP Sierra Madre.

On Monday the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Philippines had “promised several times to tow it away, but has yet to act” on that commitment.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated that claim on Tuesday, saying that “the Philippines explicitly promised several times to tow away the military vessel deliberately and illegally ‘grounded’ at Ren’ai Jiao,” Beijing’s name for Ayungin Shoal.

It added that “24 years have passed and instead of towing it away, the Philippines has sought to repair and reinforce it on a large scale in order to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao.”

The ministry also reiterated that the Philippines “must not send construction materials meant for repairing and reinforcing the ‘grounded’ military vessel on a large scale.”

“China once again urges the Philippine side to immediately remove the warship from Second Thomas Shoal and restore it to its unoccupied state,” it said.

China has communicated with the Philippines “many times” through diplomatic channels, but its goodwill and sincerity have been “ignored,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry also said — thus contradicting the position of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that it was unable to reach China on Saturday as its coast guard fired water cannons at Philippine vessels on the way to the BRP Sierra Madre.

‘Figment of the imagination’
In response, Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council, said the country never made a commitment to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, as he described China’s claim as “a figment of the imagination.”

“When did that commitment happen? Who gave it? It will be very difficult for us to respond to a hypothetical question on the part of China because [as] far as we’re concerned, we have not and will never sign or agree to anything that would in effect abandon our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea,” Malaya told reporters.

He said there was “no record or any minutes of a meeting, formal report, legal document, or verbal agreement” showing that the Philippines had agreed to remove the warship.

“If anyone allegedly agreed to it, that goes against the legal position of the government. We can consider this a figment of the imagination,” Malaya said.

In an interview with ANC, he called the promise that Manila allegedly made to Beijing “again part of the disinformation operations of China.”

Malaya told reporters that “we will continue to support and supply our troops. The BRP Sierra Madre is a symbol of Philippine sovereignty over that area.”

In a Viber message to the Inquirer on Tuesday, Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil-Velicaria said there was “no such thing” as the Philippines promising China that it would remove the BRP Sierra Madre.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in a statement on Tuesday quoted Ambassador Huang Xilian as saying that the Philippines’ “disregard of China’s dissuasion and warning” against its resupply mission to Ayungin led to Saturday’s incident, when China had “no choice but to make necessary responses” and the China Coast Guard (CCG) had to implement “appropriate measures in accordance with the law.”

Huang, who was summoned by the DFA over the Aug. 5 incident, also said “hype tactics and the introduction of third-party forces will not help, but will only complicate the situation.”

Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada, France and Germany have expressed “deep concern” over Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea.

Over the years, the DFA has summoned ambassadors to address diplomatic concerns involving the Philippines.

In March 2022, Huang was summoned over the presence of a Chinese vessel in the Sulu Sea from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.

Zhao Lijian, then spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, defended the ship’s presence saying it was “an exercise of the right of innocent passage.”

On Feb. 14 this year, it was President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who summoned Huang to Malacañang after a CCG ship on Feb. 6 directed a military-grade laser at the Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Malapascua.

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