Americas News

CHINA-PHILIPPINES ROW OVER WARSHIP HEATS UP; US reassures Manila of help in case of land, air or sea attack

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor

 

MANILA/WASHINGTON D.C. – A dispute between China and the Philippines over a sunken war ship at Ayungin shoal, known also as Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly chain within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea, has heated up anew as expert cite it as one of the flashpoints for “war” in the Pacific.

This as a Chinese Coast Guard ship sprayed water to a Philippine Coast Guard vessel with a water cannon in what Beijing described as a ‘warning’ to Manila but declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as short of declaring war.”

The Philippine vessel had been carrying supplies to a grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre in a disputed area of the South China Sea when the Chinese Coast Guard, later swarmed by Chinese warships and militia boats, tried to stop it from carrying its mission to soldiers station in the decrepit warship which is used by the Philippines as a military outpost.

China asked the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre in what it claimed as its territory, but President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the AFP stood pat saying the old ship will remain as the AFP’s outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

The incident prompted the defense chiefs of the Philippines and the United Statesto confer and reaffirmed their “ironclad” relations, with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III condemning China’s firing of water cannons at Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement from Washington D.C. released by the Pentagon, Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.  reiterated both nations’ commitment to bolstering cooperation, including strengthening “bilateral training, interoperability, and support for the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces.”

During their call, the officials also touched on the latest aggression of China in the disputed waters, where the latter blocked the Philippine Coast Guard vessels’ resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

Austin III reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the US and the Philippines applies to Philippine public and government vessels and aircraft.

President  Marcos insisted that the BRP Sierra Madre will stay right where it is in Ayungin Shoal.

“I’m not aware of any agreement that the Philippines should remove from its own territory its own ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, from Ayungin Shoal,” Marcos said in a video shared by the Presidential Communication Office.
Marcos’ statement came a day after National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya also denied the country had committed to remove the ship.
“And let me go further, if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now,” the president added.
“The PH has not and will never enter into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal,” he said in a statement.

 On the water canon by the Chinese Coast Guard, AFP Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr. said it would have been a “totally different story” if China used water cannons on Philippine Navy ships.

“That would mean you are already doing aggressive actions against a military ship, and that could be interpreted as an act of war already,” Brawner said.

“They know that. The reason why we believe they used their Chinese Coast Guard ships…They wanted to act short of war– short of declaring war. So all of these are considered actions in the grey-zone, meaning they are not really overt acts of war but lower than that,” he added.

The AFP chief explained that conditions in Ayungin Shoal only allows smaller boats be used to reach the BRP Sierra Madre.

“If we use our Navy boats, we still have to anchor far from Ayungin Shoal and use smaller boats to bring our supplies to BRP Sierra Madre,” Brawner said. “What we do from the very start, we use already smaller boats to carry our supplies.”

Brawner added that Philippine Navy ships were escorting the Philippine Coast Guard boats when the water cannon incident occurred.

He said resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre are an obligation to support and sustain military troops there.

“Secretary Austin reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces – to include those of its Coast Guard – in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” the US Department of Defense (DOD) said in a statement Tuesday night (US time).

Austin made the statement after a phone call with Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. where they discussed recent events in the South China Sea, including China’s efforts to obstruct the Philippine resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal (also known as Ayungin Shoal) on Aug. 5.

“Secretary Austin condemned the China Coast Guard’s use of water cannons and other dangerous maneuvers, which put the safety of Philippine vessels and crew at risk. He joined numerous countries in expressing concern about these unsafe operational activities, which undermine the status quo and directly threaten regional peace and stability,” the US DOD statement added.

Austin, in a May phone call with then DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr., reiterated that any armed attack on Philippine ships and aircraft in the South China Sea would result in the invocation of the MDT.

“Austin reiterated that the US’ commitment to the alliance remains ironclad and that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including the Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the MDT,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in an earlier statement.

Experts said the Philippines is just one in an emerging ring of hot spots in Asia and the Pacific that could embroil the U.S. and China in conflict, either deliberately or through miscalculations. And this threat is only intensifying as China and Russia have begun conducting joint-military training exercises in strategic waterways in the region in recent months.

·         The Australian National University identified four flashpoints – Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and East China Sea – that will determine whether Asia descends into war.