Germany and France on Saturday, March 27, joined the growing number of foreign envoys who used social media site Twitter to sound the alarm on the growing tensions in a Philippine reef where about 183 Chinese vessels are moored.
“(German flag emoticon) and (French flag emoticon) are concerned about the most recent developments in the #SouthChinaSea which have created tensions between neighboring countries. We call to refrain from measures which endanger peace, stability, and security in the #IndoPacific,” Michèle Boccoz, the ambassador of the French Republic to the Philippines, said on her official Twitter account.
The envoy was referring to the 183 Chinese vessels allegedly taking shelter at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea because of unfavorable sea conditions.
The Philippines considers the reef part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, but both China and Vietnam have claims on it.
The United States Embassy in Manila backed the Philippines’ filing of diplomatic protest against the sighting of more than 200 Chinese vessels in the reef since March 7. As of Monday, there were only 183 vessels in the maritime area.
“The [People’s Republic of China] uses maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region. We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia,” U.S Embassy spokesperson Heather Fabrikant said in a statement.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila shortly took to Twitter to warn Washington not to meddle in the issues.
Mentioning the US Embassy in Manila’s official handle @USEmbassyPH, the Chinese Embassy (@Chinaembmanila) emphasized that the United States was not a party to the West Philippine Sea issue.
“Fanning flames and provoking confrontation in the region will only serve the selfish interests of individual country and undermine the regional peace and stability,” the tweet said.
The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) is an agreement between Manila and Washington wherein the U.S can come to the Philippines’ aid if there is a foreign and external threat to its security.
The Chinese Embassy stressed that China and the Philippines were “sovereign and independent countries” that have “the will, wisdom and ability to properly handle relevant issues through bilateral channels.”
Aside from the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom also expressed their concern over the deployment of suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels in the disputed islands.
UK’s Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams earlier said he raised their concerns to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. about the tension in the seas.
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson showed his country’s interest in ensuring a “secure, open, and inclusive” Indo-Pacific region.
“The South China Sea—a crucial international waterway—is governed by international rules and norms, particularly UNCLOS. We remain concerned about destablising actions that could provoke escalation,” he tweeted.
For his part, Canadian Ambassador to Manila Peter MacArthur said that “Canada opposes recent Chinese actions in the South China Sea, including off the coast of the Philippines, that escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the rules-based international order.”
China balked at the statements and on Twitter posted screencaps of these statements on March 25.
“Neither these diplomats understand the basic facts, nor do they have the ability to think and judge independently. But they came out with irresponsible comments, using the same scripts,” its embassy in Manila tweeted.
China has been increasing its deployment of sea vessels to the contested regions since the time of former President Aquino III. This prompted former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to bring the matter before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in The Hague.
The Philippines won the case under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has since then used this victory to call on China to respect maritime boundaries.
But President Duterte has remained friendly to China despite the incursions with his Spokesman Harry Roque saying that Chinese vessels will leave the Julian Felipe reef given the friendship between the two countries.
As of March 27, no reports have indicated that the Chinese ships have left the reef, which sits about 324 kilometers west of Bataraza, a town at the southern tip of Palawan province.