U.S. officials have said that if China was going to forcibly remove the Filipino vessel that has been entangled in a disputed Chinese airfield on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, then the Philippines would decide that it could not be ignored.
But the situation took a new turn Monday with a Chinese navy vessel berthing in the disputed area where an unmanned Japanese vessel is stationed. The Philippines has now replied that the two maritime agencies would continue to work together even as China demanded the Philippine ship be removed.
“All three vessels must stay, and the Philippine vessel should remain in the area until the dispute is resolved,” Philippine Navy Commander Marina Ocampo said, according to a report by the Philippine Star. “We are working together to ensure the safety of the mission,” Ocampo added.
The five-person Chinese vessel, the Chang Yi, emerged from the waters north of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea on Monday, at the same time a U.S. ship was there.
While the Chinese attempted to persuade the Japanese ship to leave the waters, the two countries teamed up to send a patrol vessel to monitor the situation, according to Japanese Forces.
“We will strive to maintain the presence on this important patrol area,” Japanese Forces said in a statement.
The following video was uploaded by Japanese Forces. In it, three armed men can be seen on the bottom of the water, waiting to be lowered into the water. A fifth man can be seen crouching in the sea.
While U.S. officials have not yet issued a formal response to China’s latest move, Vice President Mike Pence has said that China’s push for expanded sovereignty over the Spratly Islands would violate international law.
While only smaller and shoals like Mischief Reef in the South China Sea are covered by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China itself has the right to “self-defense” in these waters.
“China has repeatedly and brazenly violated international law by unilaterally expanding their land mass in the South China Sea, and that has led to a militarization of the area to the detriment of all countries,” Pence said Sunday, according to an AP report.
The United States has attempted to halt China’s island build-up in the South China Sea, recently warning Beijing to use “lawful means” and negotiating plans with 12 countries to expand the coastguard and fleet access to disputed islands and reefs.
Vice President Mike Pence said last week that China would regret escalating tensions by moving to add hundreds of airfields, ports and other facilities to Woody Island in the South China Sea as U.S. officials said China had been working on plans to carry out military exercises there, alongside an effort to forcibly expand control over the Scarborough Shoal.
Philippine officials have said there are plans to sail their “self-defense” ship, which is affiliated with the Philippine Navy, into the waters off the shoal.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, where rival claimants include Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.