Philippines slams China for ‘dangerous maneuver’ in disputed sea

Philippine marines on exercise with their Amphibious Assault Vehicles during a landing at a beach facing the South China Sea north of Manila on September 21, 2019. Tensions are rising between the Philippines and China. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, May 3, 2021, Bloomberg. The Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Department on Monday said it protested China’s “shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuver and radio challenges” on its Coast Guard that patrolled and trained last month in Scarborough Shoal — an area the Southeast Asian nation says is within its territory, Bloomberg reported.

China’s claims over the shoal that’s 124 nautical miles from the Philippines “is without basis” and Beijing has “no law enforcement rights in these areas,” the department said May 3. The Philippines’ foreign ministry said it had also protested the “incessant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence” of China’s fishing vessels and maritime militia in its economic zones.

The latest remarks from Manila signal a further deepening of tensions with Beijing in South China Sea. The Philippines has sent more vessels and held exercises in the contested waters, even as President Rodrigo Duterte said he won’t confront China. Beijing has said that its vessels’ presence in the area is normal and legitimate.

Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, its government said, while it’s approximately 472 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China.

“The Philippines calls on China to withdraw its government vessels” around the Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratly Islands, the foreign department said on May 3.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed his department is reviewing the ownership by a Chinese company of a strategically important port used as a base for U.S. Marines.

The National Security Committee of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Cabinet had asked the defense department to advise on the ownership, Dutton said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald published late Sunday. Asked whether the government was mulling forced divestment, the minister said it would consider the national interests.

The move is likely to further increase tensions between Australia and its largest trading partner China, which have nosedived since the call by Morrison’s government a year ago for Beijing to allow independent investigators into Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

The Northern Territory government’s deal in 2015 to sell a long-term lease to the Port of Darwin to Chinese firm Landbridge Group has been criticized by security experts. It came four years after then President Barack Obama secured a deal to base about 2,500 Marines in Darwin, which is on the doorstep of the Indo-Pacific.

China has slammed Australia’s decision last month to use new laws to cancel the Belt-and-Road agreements with the Victorian state government. There has been increasing speculation Morrison may use the laws, passed in December, to scrap long-term leases held by Chinese companies at the ports in Darwin and Newcastle.

“In relation to the Port of Darwin, if there is any advice that I receive from the Department of Defence or intelligence agencies that suggest there are national security risks there, then you would expect the government to take action on that,” Morrison said in a radio interview Friday.

A social media post by China’s top law enforcement body juxtaposing the country’s successful launch of a module into space with grim cremation pyres in India was deleted after it sparked online criticism in China.

Photos of the Tianhe module launch and its fuel burn-off were compared with what appeared to be a mass outdoor cremation in India, and captioned “China lighting a fire versus India lighting a fire.” The post on Saturday by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission on its official Sina Weibo account was accompanied by a hashtag noting that new Covid-19 cases in India had surpassed 400,000 a day.

Later that day, it could no longer be found. Many Chinese social media users expressed shock and anger at the insensitivity of the post.

“We hope everyone gives attention to the Chinese government and mainstream public opinion supporting India’s fight against the epidemic,” China’s foreign ministry said in response to a request for comment. The office of the ministry’s spokesperson added that more supplies will continue to be sent to India in the coming days showing China’s support through practical action.

Official social media accounts should “hold high the banner of humanitarianism at this time, show sympathy for India, and firmly place Chinese society on a moral high ground,” Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Communist Party-backed Global Times newspaper, wrote on Weibo commenting on the deleted post. Hu said such methods were not an appropriate way for official social media accounts to gain traffic.

”I don’t think we can expect a clarification from the Party account in question, but I do think there was no consensus on this post or else it would not have been removed so quickly,” said Manya Koetse, the editor-in-chief of What’s On Weibo, a site that tracks trends on the social media platform.

Ties between China and India have been rocky in recent months. A border dispute that killed dozens last year and hurt economic ties between the two nations has fanned nationalistic sentiment in both countries. Tensions remain despite ongoing high-level talks, with India most recently urging early disengagement from all friction points along the border.

That didn’t prevent President Xi Jinping from sending a message of condolence to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and offering to provide assistance to help the South Asian country deal with a fierce surge in Covid-19 cases.

Another deleted post that first appeared Friday compared China’s “fire god mountain” — the name of the emergency hospital complex built in Wuhan — with a photo of a mass cremation in India on the official Weibo account of China’s Ministry of Public Security. It too was criticized, with social media users saying it was “morally problematic.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday that the Red Cross Society of China, local governments, non-governmental organizations and Chinese enterprises are “trying their best to collect the anti-epidemic supplies urgently needed by India, and deliver them to the Indian people as soon as possible.”

With assistance by Charlie Zhu, Lucille Liu, and Tom Hancock

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