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US Concerned Over China’s ‘coercive, Risky’ Behavior in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines — The United States is concerned over the latest incident that showed Beijing’s “coercive and risky” behavior in the contested South China Sea.

This was among the issues US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III had discussed with his Philippine counterpart Gilbert Teodoro Jr. in a call where they talked about ongoing efforts to boost the alliance of Washington and Manila.

According to a readout of their call shared by the US Department of Defense on Friday, “Secretary Austin noted with concern the People’s Republic of China’s recent coercive and risky operational behavior directed against Philippine vessels operating safely and lawfully in the South China Sea, including around Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.”

This comes after the Philippine Coast Guard called out the “dangerous maneuvers” of Chinese Coast Guard ships on two of its vessels supporting a Philippine Navy resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal on June 30.

“He (Austin) highlighted the United States’ ironclad alliance commitment with the Philippines and reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces – to include those of its Coast Guard – in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea,” the readout says.

Austin and Teodoro also “reaffirmed their commitment” to stand by the rules-based order and support the livelihood of Filipino communities and other claimant nations pushing for the lawful conduct of maritime activities in the South China Sea, in adherence with the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s fictitious claims in the contested waterway.

“Secretary Austin highlighted opportunities for the United States and the Philippines to coordinate more closely with other like-minded partners, including Japan and Australia, to ensure the region’s shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific continues to thrive,” the readout states.

The defense chiefs of the two longtime allies have agreed to soon meet in person for an in-depth talk about defense and security concerns, it also notes.

‘Unprofessional’ maneuvers

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Calson also criticized Beijing’s actions in the Ayungin Shoal.

“We are concerned by the unprofessional maneuvers of the China Coast Guard against the Philippines Coast Guard. The PRC’s irresponsible behavior in the South China Sea threatens the security and legal rights of our treaty ally, the Philippines,” she said in a Twitter post on Friday.

China, however, has denied accusations of its coast guard ships’ “dangerous maneuvers.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed their maneuvers were “professional and restrained,” countering the statement of the Philippine Coast Guard

Wang also insisted that the Ayungin Shoal, which he referred to as Ren’ai Reef, is “part of China’s Nansha Islands.”

“On June 30, the Philippine Coast Guard vessels intruded into the waters off the Ren’ai Reef without Chinese permission. In accordance with the law, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel carried out law enforcement activities to uphold China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order,” he said.

Ayungin Shoal, a reef some 194 kilometers off Palawan province, is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.