BEIJING/MELBOURNE: China on Wednesday accused the United States of using the Philippines as a “pawn” in the South China Sea, as hostilities between the two Asian nations escalate over their territorial dispute in the region.

Manila summoned a Chinese representative on Tuesday after it said China Coast Guard vessels caused two collisions with Philippine boats and water cannoned one of them during a resupply mission.

China said it “took control measures” against Philippine ships’ “illegal intrusion” into waters it claims, as well as accusing a Philippine ship of “intentionally” ramming a Chinese one.

“China urges the United States not to use the Philippines as a pawn to stir up trouble in the South China Sea,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters when asked about the United States’ condemnation of China’s actions as “provocative”. “The Philippines should not let itself be at the mercy of the United States,” she added.

Asean, Australia decry actions that ‘endanger peace’ in South China Sea

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations and an international arbitration ruling that has declared its stance baseless.

“China’s resolve to defend its legitimate rights and interests is unwavering, and the Philippines’ rights-infringing and provocative attempts will not succeed,” Mao said.

Asean, Australia reaction

Southeast Asian and Australian leaders on Wednesday warned against actions that “endanger peace” in the South China Sea, following fresh confrontations between Beijing and the Philippines in contested waters.

Simmering tensions in the trade corridor threatened to boil over this week, when Chinese boats in the Spratly Islands were accused of hounding Philippines vessels.China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea as its own, ignoring legal precedents and competing claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations. The festering dispute poses one of the region’s most vexing security challenges, looming large during a three-day summit between Australia and the 10-nation Asean bloc.

“We encourage all countries to avoid any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region,” read a joint declaration hammered out between ASEAN members and Australia.

“We recognise the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” the statement added. As the summit kicked off on Monday morning, Philippine foreign minister Enrique Manalo delivered a simple request to Beijing: “Stop harassing us”.

The following day, Chinese coast guard boats were accused of badgering a flotilla of Philippine ships sailing a resupply mission.

Marcos views ‘great alarm’

The Chinese vessels were involved in two separate collisions, the Philippines coast guard said, and blasted one of the resupply boats with a water cannon. Images taken in the aftermath showed the water cannon had shattered windows on the control bridge of one of the Philippine vessels.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said he viewed the Chinese actions with “great alarm” while a Filipino military commander described the confrontations as “the worst” in two years.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2024

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