THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday criticized China over its “highly dangerous maneuvers” against the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the waters off Ayungin Shoal recently.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza reiterated Manila’s call on China to respect the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“[I] would like to emphasize that the Philippines has the legal right to carry out routine maritime patrols in our territorial waters and EEZ (exclusive economic zones). The deployment of the BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua in the West Philippine Sea from April 18 to 24 was one such mission,” she said.

The PCG on Friday reported that two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels “intercepted” them in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, with CCG vessels 5202 and 4201 exhibiting “aggressive tactics” towards Malapascua and Malabrigo, respectively, on April 23.

The Chinese vessel carried out “dangerous maneuvers” coming within 50 yards of BRP Malapascua, which a team from Agence France-Presse (AFP) aboard the Filipino boat said resulted in a “near-collision.”

The DFA said similar maneuvers were documented on April 19, involving CCG 5201 and 4202, and the BRP Malapascua while the latter was en route to Ayungin Shoal.

“The China Coast Guard’s interference with this routine patrol mission was totally inconsistent with freedom of navigation, and a number of documented incidents also involved highly dangerous maneuvers that were contrary to standard navigational practices,” Daza said.

“We again call on China to respect the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea, as provided by UNCLOS, and refrain from actions that may cause an untoward incident,” she added.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that the near-miss was caused by Manila’s “premeditated and provocative action for the Philippine vessel to barge into the waters of Ayungin with journalists on board.”

The AFP quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying on Friday that the alleged act’s aim was “to deliberately find fault and take the opportunity to hype up the incident.”

Daza said routine patrols in Philippine waters are “neither premeditated nor provocative.”

“It is a legal right that we exercised and will continue to exercise,” he said.

China used the recently established communication line on maritime issues and informed the agency about the reported near-miss on the day of the incident.

The call was made by a focal person from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on April 23 at 5:56 pm.

“Our side informed China that it was a routine patrol and that we have every right. to carry out such an activity,” Daza said.

The PCG likewise reported that a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel with bow number 549 had “crossed paths” with its ships seven nautical miles (NM) from Pag-asa Island.

The Chinese gray ship challenged the presence of the PCG vessels over the radio on April 21 and ordered the PCG to leave while suggesting that failure to comply might “cause problem.”

Pag-asa Island also known as Thitu is Kalayaan, Palawan’s seat of power while Ayungin Shoal is located 105 nautical miles off Palawan, which is within the country’s 200NM EEZ.

Under UNCLOS, a coastal state has the “sovereign rights” to explore and exploit resources within the EEZ.

The latest development comes on the heels of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s working visit to Manila from April 22 to 24. He met with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PNA)

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