The Philippines, on Thursday, Nov. 25, responded to the Chinese government that it would not remove its navy ship from the disputed South China Sea shoal.

The BRP Sierra Madre naval vessel has been grounded at the Second Thomas Shoal since 1999, said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Associated Press reported.

He said the Philippines has no commitment to pull the navy ship from the shoal as claimed by Beijing a day prior, which said it was only opened to the Southeast Asian country for “humanitarian” purposes.

“If there was commitment it would have been removed a long time ago,” Lorenzana said.

“We can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing,” he added, referencing the Nov. 16 Chinese coast guard blockade of Filipino ships which were delivering food supplies to its troops.

The Defense Secretary noted that the Chinese government has no legal basis for its territorial claims of the shoal.

On the contrary, the Second Thomas Shoal has been recognized by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to be part of an exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, Lorenzana noted. An agreement that China itself at the time accepted.

He also reminded that a U.N.-backed arbitration tribunal had dismissed the Chinese territorial assertion in most of the areas in the South China Sea five years ago.

“We have two documents attesting that we have sovereign rights in our EEZ while they don’t, and their claims have no basis,” he said while urging Beijing to “abide by its international obligations,” per Reuters.

According to VOA News, China claims roughly 90% of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, which other governments value for fisheries and subsurface fossil fuel potential. 

Beijing relies on historical maritime records of the so-called “nine-dash line” dating back to dynastic times to argue for their territorial outreach.

The nine dashes overlap the exclusive economic zones of multiple countries, which the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 ruled was invalid evidence of historical rights and maritime entitlements provided by Beijing.

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