The European Union on 24 April criticized China for the increasing tensions in the South China Sea, citing that the swarming of Chinese fishing and armed vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) is “endangering peace and stability in the region.”
The EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy said the EU strongly opposes “any unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order.” All parties involved in the conflicting claims in the region should “resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the EU said.
In this regard, “the EU recalls the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016.” The Permanent Court of Arbitration on the UNCLOS rejected China’s claims over the South China Sea based on its ‘nine-dashed line’. The PCA also declared that China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
China refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings and has repeatedly rejected the ruling. Responding to the EU’s criticism, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reiterated that the Julian Felipe Reef and its adjacent waters are Chinese territories.
In the Philippines, defense and foreign affairs officials of the Rodrigo Duterte government have been continuously protesting the illegal presence of the Chinese vessels in the area, 175 nautical miles west of Palawan Island. Duterte himself, however, has refused to take action, admitting in his televised rambling on 19 April that he already had an “agreement” with China. His officials deny the existence of any agreement regarding China occupying any part of the West Philippine Sea.
The Communist Party of the Philippines slammed Duterte’s revelation, “President Rodrigo Duterte is a traitor to the Filipino nation by allowing China to gain military and economic control of the West Philippine Sea, especially the marine resources within the country’s EEZ.”
CPP spokesperson Marco Valbuena said that Duterte “has kowtowed to China by setting aside the Philippine’s claims under the UNCLOS… With Duterte’s acquiescence, and in exchange for promised loans, private deals and political support, China has reclaimed land and constructed large military facilities within the country’s territorial seas, strengthening its foothold and eroding Philippine sovereign rights.”
In a related statement, NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison said, “Duterte is a tyrant and butcher to the Filipino people but acts as a beggarly dolt and coward to China.”
Prof. Sison said, “the Philippines is not limited to either waging war or making diplomatic protests.” It can file complaints and demand action from UN agencies and international courts “against China’s acts of aggression, invasion and occupation of the maritime features in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.