Last update: April 30, 2023, 06:33 IST
Washington, United States
The United States on Saturday called on China to end “provocative and dangerous conduct” in the disputed South China Sea after a recent near-miss with a Philippine Coast Guard boat there, ramping up the rhetoric ahead of a visit of the Philippine President at the White House.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, in a statement two days before President Joe Biden hosted his Filipino counterpart Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said the incident was reminiscent of “harassment and intimidation” by China of Philippine ships in the disputed waterway.
“We call on Beijing to desist from its provocative and dangerous conduct,” he said, adding that any attack on the Philippine armed forces would trigger a US response.
Biden has worked to strengthen ties with Asian allies as the US-China relationship remains in a historically deep chill, and the Philippines’ proximity to major sea lanes and Taiwan give it particular strategic importance.
Sunday’s near miss off the Spratly Islands was the latest in a long string of maritime incidents between China and the Philippines.
Beijing claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, ignoring an international ruling that the claim has no legal basis.
A near miss
AFP was one of several media outlets to witness the incident after reporters were asked to join two Philippine Coast Guard boats for a six-day patrol in the waters, visiting a dozen islands and reefs.
Philippine ships approached Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as Ren’ai Jiao, in the Spratly Archipelago.
As a boat, the BRP Malapascua, which was carrying Filipino journalists, approached the shoal, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel more than twice its size cruised its way.
AFP reporters followed the incident from the other Philippine Coast Guard boat, which was less than a kilometer away.
Malapascua’s commander says the Chinese vessel came within 45 meters (50 yards) of his boat and only his swift actions prevented the steel-hulled vessels from crashing into each other .
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the Philippine boats had “trespassed” without China’s permission and called it a “premeditated and provocative action”.
But Manila hit back, saying ‘routine patrols in our own waters cannot be premeditated or provocative’ and insisting they will continue to carry out the patrols.
The near miss came just a day after Marcos hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang for talks in Manila aimed at defusing tensions in the waterway.
Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample the Philippines’ rights at sea and has turned to the United States as it seeks to strengthen defense ties.
Earlier this month, the Philippines identified four additional military bases – in addition to the five existing sites – that US forces will have access to, including one near the Spratly Islands.
The two countries have also carried out their biggest ever military maneuvers in recent weeks.
The shift alarmed China, which accused Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila.
US-Philippine relations were badly frayed under Marcos’ predecessor, the authoritarian Rodrigo Duterte.
Marcos sought to allay public fears that the revival of the alliance with the United States could drag the Philippines into conflict if China were to invade Taiwan.
He said he would discuss with Biden the “need to tone down the rhetoric” on the South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier in the month that Biden intended during the meeting with Marcos to “reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines”.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)