August 10, 2023

MANILA – The Philippines has once again refuted China’s assertions, this time dismissing the claim that it pledged to remove a long-standing grounded warship from the South China Sea. A senior security official unequivocally stated that China’s assertion is a mere “figment of its imagination,” further aggravating the strained relations between the two countries.

Contrary to China’s allegations, the Philippines contends that no promise was made regarding the removal of the World War Two-era Sierra Madre, which has been grounded at the Second Thomas Shoal for strategic purposes. Known as Ayungin Shoal to Manila, this location falls well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China’s latest accusations center on the supposed reneging of an explicit commitment made by the Philippines to remove the grounded ship. The Philippines has swiftly denied this, with Jonathan Malaya, Assistant Director General of the National Security Council, firmly stating that the country would never relinquish its sovereign rights over the Ayungin shoal.

Malaya did not mince words, addressing China’s claim as a “figment of their imagination.” In a direct challenge to Beijing, he called for concrete evidence to back their allegations.

The Philippines’ relationship with China has been punctuated by intermittent confrontations at the Second Thomas Shoal, with the most recent incident occurring just last Saturday. During this event, the Philippines accused China’s coast guard of obstructing a mission to resupply the Sierra Madre by using water cannons.

Defying China’s assertions, Malaya underlined the Philippines’ commitment to maintaining the Sierra Madre as a symbol of sovereignty within the shoal. He emphasized that the rusty vessel serves as a testament to the Philippines’ rights in the area situated within its EEZ.

It is important to note that an exclusive economic zone does not confer sovereignty over the region but grants exclusive rights to resources and fisheries within that zone, extending up to 200 miles from a country’s coastline.

In a significant legal victory in 2016, the Philippines secured an international arbitration award against China. The tribunal ruled against Beijing’s broad claim of sovereignty over the majority of the South China Sea, including the Second Thomas Shoal.

China’s actions have drawn global attention, particularly its construction of fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea. The nation’s expansive historical sovereignty claim intersects with the exclusive economic zones of neighboring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.

Maritime expert Jay Batongbacal from the University of the Philippines highlighted the strategic importance of the Second Thomas Shoal to China. Not only does it hold strategic value, but it could also potentially serve as a future military base, expanding China’s influence in the already contested region.

In conclusion, the Philippines remains resolute in its denial of making any promise to remove the grounded warship, pushing back against China’s claims. The ongoing tension surrounding the Second Thomas Shoal underscores the broader territorial disputes and power struggles in the South China Sea.