South China Sea issue: China sharpens tirades against Philippines over sea row


MANILA (Philippines Daily Inquirer/ANN): China has in recent days noticeably ramped up its public responses to persistent challenges against its sweeping claims to the South China Sea, particularly from the Philippines, denying and dismissing all allegations made by Manila in their maritime conflict.

This week alone, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of National Defense (MND) issued separate statements to assert Beijing’s “undisputable claim” to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which are well within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

They accused the Philippines of deliberately creating “an incident” in those maritime features and warned Manila not to involve other countries, especially the United States, in what it called “a purely bilateral issue.”

In their statements, Chinese government spokespersons have been asserting four common themes, the main one being China’s historic claim to almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring the 2016 arbitral ruling nullifying it.

Another is their claim that China’s maritime and naval forces have been professional and responsible in their conduct in alleged contrast to actions displayed by the Filipinos. They also say that the United States is intruding in the region, undermining its security, and that a bilateral resolution, with no third-party involvement, is the only way to resolve the maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing.

In response to a question during a press briefing in Beijing on Friday, MFA spokesperson Mao Ning said that if the Philippine military planned to build a lighthouse on Ayungin, that would be “another major move the Philippines could take to go back on its word, change its policy, and undermine the uninhabited and facility-free status of Ren’ai Jiao,” the Chinese name for the shoal.

“This will severely infringe on China’s sovereignty, violate international law and the DOC,” she said, referring to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which seeks to deescalate the conflicting claims over the whole or parts of the strategic waterway in lieu of a binding Code of Conduct.

“China will take resolute measures against any violation of our sovereignty and provocation, and firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Mao warned.

It was former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio who suggested building a lighthouse, not the military, which considered constructing a shelter for fishermen.

On Dec. 10, Chinese vessels tried to block a Philippine boat bringing fresh supplies to Filipino troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the Philippine military outpost on Ayungin.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the Chinese engaged in “dangerous maneuvers” that resulted in one of them ramming the Filipino supply boat. A similar collision involving a Chinese maritime militia vessel occurred the previous day at Panatag, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

Chinese national defense spokesperson Wu Qian at a press briefing on Thursday blamed the collisions entirely on the Philippine side.

He said the Philippines’ insisted on sending its ships to Ayungin and “provocatively rammed a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and caused a scratch.” Wu questioned the real purpose of these supply missions, pointing out that they included journalists in what he said was an effort by the Philippines to “propagate disinformation.”

Playing victim

“In my view, this is not humanitarian supply at all. It is to deliberately create an incident, play victim and make a show in the name of humanitarian supply,” Wu said.

The PCG has been documenting these encounters, showing photos and videos to support its allegations of hostile actions by the Chinese, such as when CCG vessel 5205 pointed a military-grade laser on the PCG ship BRP Malapascua on Feb. 6, resulting in the temporary blindness of some of its crew members. The PCG also had videos of the alleged dangerous maneuvers by the Chinese vessels that it said were violations of international maritime rules of conduct.

Wu dismissed the PCG allegations as “purely false hype.”

“As for the so-called sonic or laser weapon, this is an entirely groundless accusation. China has no intention or necessity to use such devices,” he said.

Wu also called out the United States for “conniving at and emboldening the Philippines’ infringement and provocations” and its attempt to “threaten and coerce” Beijing with the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty but was confident that “it will not work on China.”

The Philippines has received support from the United States, Japan, India, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, which have denounced China’s actions in the South China Sea.

‘Diplomatic iron army’

Beijing’s diplomatic offensive received a boost after Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday urged Chinese ambassadors to forge a “diplomatic iron army” loyal to the Communist Party, reviving the abrasive “Wolf Warrior” rhetoric propagated by some diplomats as a sign of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.

“Dare to be good at struggle and to become defenders of the national interest. It is necessary to ... resolutely safeguard the interests of national sovereignty, security and development with a posture of readiness and a firm will to defy strong powers,” Xi told Chinese envoys gathered in Beijing, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

His remarks harked back to a more brash, confrontational style of rhetoric adopted by Chinese diplomats since 2020.

Xi also urged envoys to adhere to Party discipline, repeating the word “strict” seven times in an annual keynote speech after the Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference, a secretive high-level Communist Party foreign policy planning meeting that takes place once every five years, concluded on Thursday.

“It is necessary to put rules and discipline in front, strictly discipline oneself, take strict responsibility ... and create a diplomatic iron army that is loyal to the Party ... dares to and is good at struggle, and observes strict discipline,” Xi said during the envoys’ conference at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

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