EU slams China over “threatening” boats believed to be manned by maritime militia around disputed Whitsun Reef

The EU slammed China on Saturday for endangering peace in the South China Sea and urged all parties to abide by a 2016 tribunal ruling which rejected most of China’s claim to sovereignty in the sea, but which Beijing has rejected, Reuters reports.

The EU last week released a new policy aimed at stepping up its influence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s rising power. This follows protests by the Philippines on Friday over China's failure to withdraw “threatening” boats believed to be manned by maritime militia around the disputed Whitsun Reef.

"The EU should reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific ... based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law," EU foreign ministers said in a statement.

"Tensions in the South China Sea, including the recent presence of large Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, endanger peace and stability in the region," a EU spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday.

The EU reiterated its strong opposition to "unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and international rules-based order," urging all parties to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law, and highlighted a 2016 international arbitration that had ruled in favour of the Philippines while invalidating most of China's claims in the South China Sea.

China rejected EU's accusation that its ships at Whitsun Reef had endangered peace and security.

The Chinese Mission to the EU in a statement on Saturday reiterated that the reef is part of China's Nansha Islands, or Spratly Islands, and that it was "reasonable and lawful" for Chinese fishing boats to operate there and shelter from the wind.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month said Washington “stands by its ally, the Philippines,” in the face of China’s massing maritime militia at Whitsun Reef.

Image: By Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) - ABS-CBN / BusinessWorld - Photo provided to Reuters from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/...

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