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U.S. reasserts support of Philippines in dispute with China over ocean territory

By Chris Benson
An activist holds a placard during a protest over the ocean region in question at the Chinese Consulate in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines (2021). A Chinese Coast Guard ship on May 19 “harassed” Philippine service members being medically evacuated and “unlawfully seized airdropped provisions,” according to the State Department. File Photo by Mark Cristino/EPA-EFE
An activist holds a placard during a protest over the ocean region in question at the Chinese Consulate in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines (2021). A Chinese Coast Guard ship on May 19 “harassed” Philippine service members being medically evacuated and “unlawfully seized airdropped provisions,” according to the State Department. File Photo by Mark Cristino/EPA-EFE

June 17 (UPI) -- The United States on Monday said it stood by its ally the Philippines after a Chinese vessel allegedly rammed into a Philippine supply ship near the Spartly Islands in the South China Sea around the contested Second Thomas Shoal territory.

"The United States stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns the escalatory and irresponsible actions by the People's Republic of China to deny the Philippines from lawfully delivering humanitarian supplies to service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre on June 17," according to an official statement by State Department spokesman Matthew Miler.

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A Philippine sailor suffered severe injuries when Chinese forces blocked a Philippine resupply mission in the South China Sea at Ayungin Shoal, Pentagon officials confirmed to USNI News.

Miller says the Chinese ships' "dangerous and deliberate" use of water cannons, ramming, blocking maneuvers, and towing damaged Philippine vessels, "endangered the lives of Philippine service members, is reckless, and threatens regional peace and stability."

A Chinese Coast Guard ship on May 19 "harassed" Philippine service members being medically evacuated and "unlawfully seized airdropped provisions," according to the State Department.

But China has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal "as unanimously decided by an international tribunal in July 2016," Miller wrote.

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This new move by China marks a series of similar actions in regional escalations over the disputed territory.

The reef is occupied by Philippine Navy personnel who are regularly resupplied by Filipino vessels. Manila claims the reef is within its exclusive economic zone -- an assertion challenged by Beijing, as well as by Vietnam and Taiwan.

It comes as the Philippines recently asked the United Nations to formally recognize its right to the undersea continental seabed in the South China Sea.

This escalatory incident is the latest in a series of Chinese-made provocations "to impede critically needed supplies from reaching service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre," the State Department says.

The Philippines government official said China's actions "put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats, in blatant violation of international law, particularly the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award," the government posted on X.

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