The United States reaffirms its unwavering support for its Philippine allies in the face of recent provocative actions taken by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard and maritime militia. These actions obstructed a critical resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on October 22.
The dangerous maneuvers carried out by the PRC Coast Guard and maritime militia, resulting in collisions with Philippine resupply and Coast Guard vessels, constitute a clear violation of international law. These maneuvers were a deliberate interference with the Philippine vessels’ exercise of their right to freedom of navigation on the high seas. Such actions not only jeopardized the safety of Filipino crew members but also hindered the delivery of vital supplies to service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre. This interference with lawful Philippine maritime operations has the potential to undermine regional stability.
Second Thomas Shoal is indisputably located within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and on the Philippine continental shelf. A legally binding decision by an international tribunal in July 2016, which is binding on both the Philippines and the PRC, categorically stated that “there exists no legal basis for any entitlement by China to maritime zones in the area of Second Thomas Shoal.” Furthermore, the ruling clarified that Second Thomas Shoal is a low-tide elevation outside the territorial sea of another high-tide feature, rendering the PRC’s territorial claims baseless.
The recent unsafe maneuvers on October 22 and the PRC’s use of water cannons against a Philippine vessel on August 5 are just the latest instances of provocative actions taken by the PRC in the South China Sea to assert its expansive and unlawful maritime claims. These actions demonstrate a disregard for the rights of other states operating lawfully in the region.
The United States emphatically reiterates its commitment to the provisions of Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, which extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea. In doing so, the United States affirms its dedication to supporting the Philippines in maintaining peace and security in the region.