China’s envoy to the Philippines met with the Filipino defense chief on Thursday amid bilateral tensions, a day after Manila accused Beijing of harassing its ships in the disputed South China Sea.
Specific details of their meeting were not made public, but Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Chinese envoy Huang Xilian discussed ways to improve defense relations, statements from both sides said.
Their discussion focused on “[the] existing bilateral mechanism and dialogue platforms” earlier agreed to by both nations, the Philippine Department of National Defense said in a statement.
“The Philippines’ defense capability building efforts will always be in line with the Philippines’ national interests,” Teodoro told the Chinese envoy, his office said.
Huang, in a statement, said that he and Teodoro “had a constructive discussion on promoting defense and military relations between China and the Philippines, and maintaining peace and stability in the region.”
On Wednesday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) accused China of harassing two of its ships supporting a Philippine Navy mission to deliver food and supplies to troops stationed at a military outpost in the South China Sea, the second such incident in less than five months.
The Philippine vessels were escorting civilian boats with navy personnel on board when China Coast Guard ships confronted them on June 30 near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the PCG said.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard’s spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, said Thursday that two Chinese vessels “carried out dangerous maneuvers” and got as close as 100 yards.
“The commanding officers of the Philippine Coast Guard vessels were forced to stop their engine or to decrease their speed for them to prevent the possible collision with these Chinese Coast Guard vessels that were blocking them,” Tarriela told local cable television channel ANC.
“When we reached the distance [of] 2.9 nautical miles [away from the destination] we also encountered six Chinese maritime militia [boats] also attempting to block the entrance of the Philippine Coast Guard as it approached Ayungin shoal,” he said.
Chinese envoy Huang has yet to address growing calls to issue a statement about the incident.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday declined comment on the fresh incident, but said that it had filed a total of 97 notes verbale, or protests against China, relating to perceived harassment in the South China Sea since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year.
The incident is the latest in a growing number of aggressive actions by China in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways that also has an abundance of natural resources.
In February, the Philippines protested a similar incident when the Chinese Coast Guard pointed a laser at one of its coast guard ships, causing temporary blindness to its crew.
China claims most of the sea as its sovereign territory, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have territorial claims. Beijing has for years militarized artificial islands, while deploying coast guard boats, navy vessels, and a state-backed maritime militia around disputed areas
In 2016, an international arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines and against China’s sweeping claims. China has refused to acknowledge the ruling.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Gerard Carreon in Manila contributed to this report.