China on Thursday warned the Philippines to “make the rational choice” following Manila’s recent efforts to challenge Beijing’s South China Sea claims.
Videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard showed Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats this month and there was also a collision between vessels from the two countries during tense clashes at flashpoint reefs.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday said: “We hope that the Philippines can make a rational choice, follow the effective way of getting along with neighbors, and work with China to properly handle and manage the current maritime situation.”
His comments at a regular press briefing followed a phone call in which China’s top diplomat Wang Yi told Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo that the two countries were “facing serious difficulties”, blaming Manila for changing its policies.
“Wang Yi said China-Philippines relations are currently facing serious difficulties,” a readout said late on Wednesday.
“The root cause is that the Philippines has changed its longstanding policy stance, reneged on its own commitments, continued to provoke and stir trouble at sea, and undermined China’s legal rights.”
“China-Philippines relations are at a crossroads. Faced with the choice of where to go, the Philippines must act with caution,” the readout said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims.
Manalo described his call with Wang as “frank and candid”, according to a readout released by the Philippines foreign ministry on Thursday.
“We had a frank and candid exchange and ended our call with a clearer understanding of our respective positions on a number of issues,” the readout quoted Manalo as saying.
“We both noted the importance of dialogue in addressing these issues.”
Relations between Manila and Beijing have frayed under President Ferdinand Marcos, who has sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington and deepen defense cooperation in the region, while also pushing back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
The Philippines summoned China’s envoy on December 11 and flagged the possibility of expelling him following the latest clashes.
The videos released by the Philippines were of incidents during two separate resupply missions to fishermen at Scarborough Shoal and a tiny garrison at Second Thomas Shoal the previous weekend.
There was also a collision between Philippine and Chinese boats at Second Thomas Shoal, where a handful of Filipino troops are stationed on a grounded warship, with both countries trading blame.
Marcos met Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in San Francisco, where the pair discussed the maritime territorial disputes.
Marcos later told a forum in Hawaii the Philippines would not give up “a single square inch of our territory”.