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Why China and the Philippines are in Dispute Over a Rusting, Grounded WWII Warship

A grounded and rusting Second World War vessel that once served the US Navy has become a fresh diplomatic flashpoint between the Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea.

China has asked the Philippines to tow the BRP Sierra Madre from a disputed reef and return the site to its “unoccupied state”.

Manila uses the warship, which also saw action in the Vietnam war, as a base for a handful of troops. It was deliberately run aground in 1999 on the Second Thomas Shoal to help the Philippines check the advances of China in a disputed maritime region.

Tensions have resurfaced under Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr as the country pivots toward the United States.

“China once again urges the Philippine side to immediately remove the warship from Second Thomas Shoal and restore it to its unoccupied state,” Beijing’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also said it had contacted the Philippines over the issue “many times” using diplomatic channels, claiming its goodwill has been “ignored”.

China’s ambassador to the Philippines said on Monday that it had no choice but to respond. “China has been waiting for feedback from the Philippine side and hopes that both sides will start talks as soon as possible so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the relevant waters,” Huang Xilian said.

Manila has repeatedly accused the Chinese coast guard of impeding its ability to supply its troops there by blocking resupply missions, like on Saturday when it sprayed a Philippine vessel with a water cannon in an “excessive and offensive” move.

Japan and France, through their embassies in Manila, have expressed concern over such actions and repeated their support for a 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s expansive South China Sea claims.

Manila insists it will not abandon the disputed shoal.

“The Philippines will never abandon our post in Ayungin Shoal,” said Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the Philippines’ National Security Council, referring to the Philippines’ own name for the shoal. “We urge China not to escalate matters by water cannons or military-grade lasers, which places Philippines lives at risk, but by sincere negotiations and other diplomatic means.”

China has long claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, even though it overlaps with the waters of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Source : AOL