U.S. backs Philippines in spat with China over blocked access to ship on disputed shoal


Nov. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. government has joined the Philippines government in condemning the Chinese Coast Guard for confronting a Filipino vessel with water cannon this week in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

The Philippines said the ship was on a routine resupply mission for military troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a vessel intentionally grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal.

China, meanwhile, accused the Philippines of entering its waters without permission.

The Philippine National Task Force said in a statement that Chinese maritime militia vessels "recklessly harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous maneuvers" in an attempt "to illegally impede or obstruct a routine resupply and rotation mission to BRP Sierra Madre" at Second Thomas Shoal.

The Chinese vessel, it said, "deployed a water cannon against Philippine supply vessel M/L Kalayaan in an illegal though unsuccessful attempt to force the latter to alter course."

U.S. State Department late Friday issued a statement of support for the Philippines over the incident, asserting that Washington "stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our Philippine ally in the face of the People's Republic of China repeated harassment in the South China Sea."

U.S. officials condemned the Chinese actions as "inconsistent with international law and follow a pattern of dangerous operational behavior in the South China Sea."

They referred to a 2016 ruling by an arbitral tribunal that found Chinese vessels were taking illegal actions in Philippine waters and reiterated that Washington stands by its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.

"An international tribunal's July 2016 decision -- legally binding on both the Philippines and the [People's Republic of China] -- made clear that the PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to Second Thomas Shoal," the State Department said.

Philippine senators on Saturday also condemned China's actions.

Sen. J.V. Ejercito declared "it is crucial to reiterate the verdict of the Hague-based tribunal, constituted under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

On Aug. 5, the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannon another Philippine vessel, which was also condemned by the U.S. State Department.