China says the United States is trying to “hype up” territorial disputes in the South China Sea amid rising tension stemming from Beijing’s effort to block the Philippines from accessing a key shoal controlled by Manila.
Days after the State Department joined the Philippines in condemning what it called “dangerous actions” by China‘s coast guard in the strategic Indo-Pacific waterway, the Chinese government lashed out, claiming Washington is trying to “provoke conflicts” in the area.
At issue is a dispute over Manila‘s efforts to resupply a small contingent of Filipino troops on a Philippine navy ship that has long been marooned on a sandbar in the Philippines‘ exclusive economic zone.
China has protested that the Philippine ship was deliberately left on the sandbar more than two decades ago to bolster Manila’s claims to the area.
The dispute has nearly become violent in recent days, with Philippine military officials saying a Chinese government ship used “excessive and offensive” force in deploying a water cannon to drive back one of two Filipino supply boats that were delivering troops and supplies to the marooned World War II-era era vessel.
The Chinese are attempting to block the Philippines‘ access to the vessel even though an international tribunal has ruled in Manila’s favor against aggressive territorial claims by Beijing. China has drawn criticism from several nations for claiming sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea.
While China and the Philippines maintain robust trade, tension between Chinese Communist Party-ruled Beijing and the democratically run Manila have risen since the 2021 election of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has revamped his country’s longtime military alliance with the United States.
Chinese officials accuse the U.S. of meddling and inciting a conflict over the disputed sandbar or shoal, which Beijing calls “Ren’ai Jiao.”
“The South China Sea is not a ‘hunting ground’ for countries outside the region to meddle with, sow discord and provoke conflicts,” said a statement posted Tuesday on the website of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines.
“The US has been inciting and supporting the Philippines attempts to overhaul and reinforce its military vessel that was deliberately ‘grounded’ on Ren’ai Jiao,” the statement said. “The US even sent over military aircraft and vessels to assist and support the Philippines, and repeatedly sought to threaten China by citing the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
It went on to assert that “the US has also rallied certain allies to persistently sensationalize the South China Sea issue, extensively hype up the recent maritime incident and attack China’s legitimate and lawful actions at sea.”
U.S. officials sharply deny such allegations, and many regional analysts say it is China’s aggressive sovereignty claims that have led to tensions with Washington and nations in the region, including the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
China‘s allegations against Washington came after U.S. officials expressed support for the Philippines over the weekend.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of dangerous actions by the Coast Guard and maritime militia of the People’s Republic of China to obstruct an August 5 Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea,” the State Department spokesman’s office said Saturday in a statement.
“Firing water cannons and employing unsafe blocking maneuvers, PRC ships interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and jeopardized the safety of the Philippine vessels and crew,” the statement said.
The U.S. noted that it has mutual defense agreements with Manila and would come to its aid in the event of an armed attack on its ships, planes or armed forces.
Australia and Japan have issued formal protests of the Chinese attempts to block Philippine access to the grounded ship maneuver, according to The Associated Press.
• David R. Sands contributed to this report.