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China claims coast guard upheld sovereignty vs. Philippine ships

China on Thursday said its coast guard upheld its sovereignty when Philippine vessels carrying supplies to Filipino troops to Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal off the South China Sea intruded into what it claimed was its waters.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the remarks hours after  Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannon on two Philippine ships on their way to the shoal.

Zhao said Philippine ships entered Chinese waters on the night of Nov. 16 without permission.

He said the coast guard vessels merely executed their duties "in accordance with the law" to protect China's sovereignty.

The Chinese official said China and the Philippines were discussing the issue.

The shoal lies off the country's western waters and within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Locsin said no one was hurt, but the supply mission was aborted following assault on the Philippine vessels.

Manila protested China's action "in the strongest terms" and expressed "outrage and condemnation" of the incident.

Locsin warned China that the vessels were covered by a mutual defense treaty with its defense ally, the United States.

He called the Chinese Coast Guard's action "illegal," adding that China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas.

"They must take heed and back off," Locsin said.

A Philippine Naval vessel – the BRP Sierra Madre – has been grounded at Ayungin shoal since 1999.

The ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

It is 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China makes massive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, where the Phililpines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

Manila has renamed parts of the waters that fall within its territory as West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, following a case filed by the Philippines, invalidated China's sweeping claims over the waters. Beijing does not recognize the ruling.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitral tribunal victory against China, said the tribunal ruled that the shoal was part of the Philippine continental shelf and not subject to territorial claim by any other country.

"Being not susceptible to a territorial claim by any other country, there can be no territorial dispute on the same," Del Rosario said. 

"Only the Philippines has the exclusive sovereign rights over its continental shelf including Ayungin shoal," he added. -NB, GMA News