US says Chinese coast guard harassing Philippine vessels
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States urged China on Saturday to stop harassing Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, pledging to stand with the Philippines after another maritime confrontation between the two Asian countries.
"We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The Philippines on Friday accused China's coast guard of "aggressive tactics" following an incident during a Philippine coast guard patrol close to the Philippines-held Second Thomas Shoal, a flashpoint for previous altercations located 105 nautical miles (195 km) off its coast.
China on Sunday said it was willing to handle maritime differences with countries of concern in the South China Sea through friendly consultations and warned the United States against interference.
"The U.S., as a country outside of the region, must not interfere with the South China Sea matter or use the South China Sea matter to sow discord among regional countries," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a written statement.
The Second Thomas Shoal is home to a small military contingent aboard a rusty World War Two-era U.S. ship that was intentionally grounded in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines' territorial claims. In February, the Philippines said a Chinese ship had directed a "military-grade laser" at one of its resupply vessels.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, with a "nine-dash line" on maps that stretches more than 1,500 km off its mainland and cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. An international arbitral ruling in 2016 dismissed that line as having no legal basis.
China's foreign ministry on Friday said the Philippine vessels had intruded into Chinese waters and made deliberate provocative moves.
The State Department said Washington "stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order."
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and Bernadette Baum)