The U.S. State Department on Saturday said it "stands with" the Philippines against China’s "infringement" on the Southeast Asian country’s "freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea, accusing the Communist country of "harassment."
"The United States stands with The Philippines in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s continued infringement upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," the State Department said in a release. "Imagery and video recently published in the media is a stark reminder of PRC harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within their exclusive economic zone. We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct. The United States continues to track and monitor these interactions closely."
On Friday, the Philippines accused China of "aggressive tactics" following an incident last Sunday when a Chinese coast guard ship caused a near collision by blocking a Philippine patrol vessel in a disputed shoal of the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over the majority of the South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.
A 2016 ruling by an international arbitral court found that China’s "nine-dash line" segments on maps to show Its claims have no legal basis.
The State Department added that the U.S. "stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty."
During a patrol last weekend, the Chinese coast guard called the waters China’s "undisputable territories" and issued unspecified threats against the Philippine coast guard if they didn’t leave.
"Since you have disregarded our warning, we will take further necessary measures on you in accordance with the laws and any consequences entailed will be borne by you," the Chinese coast guard said last Sunday before following the Philippine vessel and trying to block it from the mouth of the shoal. The Philippine vessel retreated for the safety of those onboard, including journalists, and the ship’s Capt. Rodel Hernandez later called the Chinese ship’s maneuver "very dangerous, adding that it violated international rules on collision avoidance.
China has long demanded that the Philippines withdraw its small contingent of naval forces and tow away the actively commissioned but crumbling U.S. WWII warship BRP Sierra Madre that was deliberately marooned on the shoal in 1999 to serve as a symbol of Manila’s territorial claim to the atoll.
The Chinese foreign ministry accused the Philippines of being aggressive in the incident, claiming it had encroached on its waters.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.