Philippines summons Beijing envoy over South China Sea water cannon attack

Manila says the confrontation near Second Thomas Shoal wounded three of its soldiers and caused severe damage to its vessel.

The Philippines has summoned Beijing’s envoy after accusing the Chinese Coast Guard of wounding three of its soldiers during a water cannon attack in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, in a statement on Monday, said Manila conveyed its “strong protest against the aggressive actions” undertaken by China’s Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militias against the Philippine mission near the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

The department said it has also instructed its mission in Beijing to lodge a formal complaint over the incident.

The move comes a day after Philippines’ National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said the confrontation wounded three Filipino soldiers caused severe damage to the Unaizah May 4 vessel.

Ano did not reveal the extent and nature of their injuries, though the military said the personnel were treated on board a coastguard escort ship.

The Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin in the Philippines, has been the scene of repeated confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels over the past year. The confrontation on Saturday marked the second time that Unaizah May 4 has been damaged by the Chinese coastguard’s water cannon assault at the far-flung shoal in March.

The shoal has been occupied by a small contingent of the Philippine Navy and marines on a marooned warship since 1999. The sailors, who require regular resupply missions to survive their remote assignment, have been surrounded by Chinese coastguard and suspected militia vessels in an increasingly tense territorial standoff.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing off rival claims from other countries, including the Philippines, despite an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

China’s Ministry of National Defense on Sunday warned the Philippines against “provocative” actions in the South China Sea and pledged to safeguard Beijing’s territorial sovereignty.

“We warn the Philippines to stop making any remarks that may lead to the intensification of conflicts and escalation of the situation, and stop all infringing and provocative actions,” the ministry said in a statement.

“If the Philippines repeatedly challenges China’s bottom line, China will continue to take firm and decisive measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” the statement added.

The repeated high-seas confrontations have raised fears they could degenerate into a larger conflict that could bring China and the Philippines’ treaty ally United States into a collision.

Washington lays no claims to the busy seaway, a key global trade route, but has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets in what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations, which China has criticised.

The US has also warned repeatedly that it is obligated to defend the Philippines – its oldest treaty ally in Asia – if Philippine forces, ships or aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Saturday that the US “stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns the dangerous actions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against lawful Philippine maritime operations in the South China Sea on March 23”.

He said the Chinese ships’ “repeated employment of water cannons and reckless blocking maneuvers resulted in injuries to Filipino service members and significant damage to their resupply vessel, rendering it immobile”.

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