The European Union (EU) and New Zealand have joined the resounding calls to preserve a rules-based order in the South China Sea amid the reported “lingering” presence of Chinese fishing vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef.
EU Ambassador to Manila Luc Veron on Thursday said the bloc “stands by rules-based order.” He stressed the need for all parties to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Veron also cited the statement made by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at a recent EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministerial meeting.
“We cannot allow countries to unilaterally undermine international law and maritime security in the South China Sea, thereby representing a serious threat to the peaceful development of the region,” Borrell declared.
New Zealand, for its part, urged parties to exercise “self-restraint, resolution of disputes by peaceful means, and undertaking cooperative activities to build trust and confidence.” It also echoed calls for adherence and trspect for the UNCLOS.
The New Zealand statement was delivered during the 28th New Zealand-Asean Dialogue last March 23, where Manila reiterated its objection over the “continued provocative presence” of Chinese fishing vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippines said provocative presence of the these vessels “not only infringes upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction but threatens security and stability in the region.”
Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States earlier expressed concern over actions that may raise tensions in the South China Sea.
Canada slammed China’s actions in the SCS “including off the coast of the Philippines” where over 200 China-flagged vessels were sighted as early as March 7, which “escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the rules-based international order.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. fired off Manila’s diplomatic protest over the issue on March 21.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, however, maintained that the boats were only “taking shelter” in what Beijing claims as part of its administrative district, and retorted sharply to the diplomats of UK, Australia and Canada.
Xilian told President Duterte in a recent meeting that the Chinese vessels spotted off the Julian Felipe Reef within the country’s exclusive economic zone were merely “seeking shelter”.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef last March 7. The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed on March 22 that around 183 Chinese vessels linger in the same area.
The US Embassy in Manila, on the other hand, said the Chinese boats have been mooring in the area “for many months in ever-increasing numbers, regardless of the weather.”
The Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.