NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 27 November) — Just a day after the virtual summit of US President Biden and China President Xi to defuse the rising tension between their nations in their economic and political fronts, three Chinese coast guard vessels aggressively assaulted with water cannons two Philippine boats, blocking and stopping them from ferrying provisions to the Filipino soldiers stationed in Ayungin Shoal.
Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan island group (KIP), which is an integral part of the Philippine, as well as in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental self, and over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign right and jurisdiction.
The Philippines is an ally of the US. Unofficial and not deliberate, perhaps, the Ayungin incident looks, nonetheless, like a Chinese way of testing the waters on how the US would respond to a provocation to its ally.
China, being a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is aware that the West Philippine Sea and the islands and shoals thereat are within the country’s EEZ and continental self, thus within our territorial waters. As UNCLOS signatory and permanent member of the UN Council at that, China is supposed to honor and acknowledge the sovereign right of the Philippines. Instead, it claims said territorial waters as part of its territory, unilaterally marking the area with a so-called Nine-dash line. Such claim has been nullified, however, by the Hague Arbitral Tribunal in 2016. Yet, China refused to submit to the ruling and since then has responded belligerently by dispatching and permanently stationing a flotilla of maritime militia and coast guard vessels in the disputed area.
The Ayungin shoal incident on November 16, 2021, is not the first time that Chinese coast guard vessels had used water cannons to drive Filipinos away from their own territory. On January 27, 2014, Filipino fishers were also fired at with water cannons in Panatag Shoal to stop them from fishing in their traditional fishing ground. And despite enumerable diplomatic protests, Chinese maritime militia aka fishing vessels and coast guard continue to move provocatively inside our territorial waters.
The endless bullying and China’s pachydermatous stance of simply shrugging off the country’s diplomatic protests is tantamount to trampling on our sovereignty and needs to be countered with a measure strong enough to express our grave displeasure, like recalling our ambassador to China. This approach is within our capacity and prerogative and does not require military might to execute. It is the strongest we can do without provoking war.
Recalling an ambassador is purely a political signal often resorted to by a government to show its discontent with a foreign government.
And, perhaps, it’s high time to invoke our mutual defense treaty with the US to drive a point.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)