US backs PH call on China to respect int'l law after 'swarming' incidents

The United States has expressed its support for the Philippines in its call for China to "respect international law" as the Asian giant continues to conduct alarming activities in the South China Sea, including swarming the waters.

In a statement, ​US ​Department ​of States ​spokesman Ned Price reiterated the country​'s​ message to China ​to abide by​ the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) "and its legal obligations pursuant to the 2016 arbitral ruling."

This came after​ the​ ​recent swarming of several Chinese vessels ​of the​ Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands—an action​ that​ great​ly​ concern​ed Department of National Defense Officer-in-Charge Jose Faustino—​and the forcible taking of Chinese coast guard of a rocket debris from the Philippine Navy in the West Philippines Sea.

Price said the swarming of the Chinese vessels ​"​interfere​​ with the livelihoods of Philippine fishing communities, and also reflect continuing disregard for other South China Sea claimants and states lawfully operating in the region​."​​

​"​Furthermore, we share the Philippines​'​ concerns regarding the unsafe encounter that the PRC ​(People's Republic of China) ​Coast Guard initiated with Philippines naval forces in the South China Sea, as documented before the Senate of the Philippines on December 14​," it added.​

Chinese maritine militia vessels are monitored in Sabina Shoal in this satellite image dated Oct. 2, 2022. (Courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative)

China earlier denied that it forcibly took the debris and said that it instead had a "friendly consultation" with the Philippine Navy. But a video played in the Senate in one of its sessions proved otherwise. Since then, China still has no comment.

​Price said the ​United States ​​stands with ​the​ Philippines, ​which it considers as one of its allies, "​in upholding the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law.​"

In her historic trip to Palawan, the province closest to the South China Sea, in November, US Vice President Kamala Harris urged the Philippines to "stand up" against illicit activities and harassment experienced by Filipino fishers in the disputed waters.

​Harris said the US is ready to stand with the Philippines ​"​in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea​"​ as it supports the 2016 UN arbitral tribunal ruling, ​"​​​​which delivered a unanimous and final decision​"​ firmly rejecting China’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims.

​"​We will continue to rally our allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior. When the international rules-based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere,​"​​ she ​asserted.​​