MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippines does not have to give China prior notice about resupply missions in its own territory in the South China Sea, saying the operations, including the “upkeep” of a grounded navy ship, are legitimate, its foreign ministry said on Thursday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also called on China to remove all “illegal structures” it built within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), cease reclamation in those areas and be accountable for the damage the activities caused.
China has repeatedly accused the Philippines of illegally entering its waters without its permission during its missions to transport food and water to Filipino soldiers living aboard a navy ship that Manila grounded at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. The atoll is called Ayungin by the Philippines and Renai Reef by China.
“We are being asked to give prior notification each time we conduct a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. We will not do so,” DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a statement.
China claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, pointing to a line on its maps that cuts into the EEZs of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Taiwan, which China also claims as part of its territory, has said it does not accept Beijing’s maps.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said the line on China’s maps had no legal basis, which Beijing rejects.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated his support for the court ruling during a meeting with his Manila counterpart in Jakarta. Both have denounced harassment by China towards Philippine vessels conducting the resupply mission.
A spokesperson for the Philippines National Security Council on Thursday flagged a disinformation campaign by “propagandists” and “information operators” that aims to undermine U.S.-Philippines relations and sway public opinion in China’s favour.
The narratives include portraying “the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines as superior-inferior relationship,” said Jonathan Malaya.
“It just so happened that in this particular dispute the interests of the United States and the Philippines aligned,” Malaya told reporters. “We are cognizant of the fact that there will be a time that the interests of the Philippines and the U.S. will diverge.”
Since the grounding of the Sierra Madre ship at the atoll in 1999 in Manila’s attempt to assert its sovereignty claim, China has repeatedly called on the Philippines to tow the vessel away, based on an agreement which Manila says does not exist.
“The Philippines has not entered into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ and continental shelf, including in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal,” Daza said.
The Second Thomas Shoal lies 190 km (118 miles) off the Philippine island of Palawan, well within the Manila’s EEZ.
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Mikhail Flores and Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)