The Philippines has accused Chinese boats of harassing its supply ships and plying the sea lanes in the South China Sea, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday.
Duterte told a Cabinet meeting the two Filipino supply ships that patrol the area have been “harassed several times by Chinese ships and at times Chinese coast guard,” according to Philippines National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana added that the Chinese navy has not interfered with the Filipino ships and their operations, but the coast guard ships have been “very aggressive” toward the Filipino vessels.
Earlier this month, China’s foreign ministry rejected allegations of harassment by the Chinese coast guard in the disputed waters.
Duterte has warmed up to China since taking office.
In a speech to China’s new ambassador, Lu Shaye, in January, Duterte said he was open to recognizing China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
Duterte previously had said he would not recognize the Chinese claims to the region but would maintain the Philippines’ “sovereignty” over parts of the sea.
“We are willing to have our interests respected by a neighbor to the south. We do not want the issue to arise again. We will put the nation first,” Duterte said.
China’s foreign ministry said Lu told Duterte that China was willing to work with his administration to promote the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct.
The Manila Times first reported the water cannon claims.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.