Jul 20, 2024

Group of Seven leaders with European Council and Commission partners pose for a photo at the 2024 G7 summit in Italy. Photo by www.g7italy.it.

July 1, 2024 — Canada and its partners in the Group of Seven (G7) nations have expressed “serious concern” over actions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against vessels of the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The multi-nation dispute over the South China Sea was among the topics covered in a communique released by G7 leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at their June 13-June 15, 2024 summit in Italy.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and reiterate 

our strong opposition to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion,” the leaders stated in the communique. 

There had been confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, which is being claimed either in whole or in parts by six nations.

These countries with competing claims are China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

“We continue opposing China’s dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia in the South China Sea and its repeated obstruction of countries’ high seas freedom of navigation,” the G7 leaders’ communique declared. 

“We express serious concern about the increasing use of dangerous maneuvers and water cannons against Philippine vessels.”

The G7 is an informal forum that brings together Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It may be recalled that Global Affairs Canada on December 12, 2023 issued a statement condemning China for “acts of intimidation” against Philippine vessels.

These include the “use of dangerous maneuvers, collisions, water cannons and long-range acoustic devices”.

Canada was reacting to actions taken by China on December 9, 2023 at the Scarborough Shoal, which is also referred to by the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc.

Canada was also referring to an incident at the Second Thomas Shoal, or the Ayungin Shoal to the Philippines.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy deliberately grounded the military ship Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal.

The decaying vessel has since served as the country’s outpost in the disputed  waters.

A squad of Philippine Marines is garrisoned at Sierra Madre.

“The PRC’s actions demonstrate a clear disregard for navigational rights and freedoms and are inconsistent with its obligations under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Canada declared in its December 12, 2023 statement.

After noting its concern over Chinese actions against Philippine vessels, the G7 communique also addressed China’s claim over the whole of the South China Sea.

“In this regard, we reaffirm that there is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims 

in the South China Sea, and we oppose China’s militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities in the South China Sea. 

“We re-emphasize the universal and unified character of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and reaffirm UNCLOS’s important role in setting out the legal framework that governs all activities in the oceans and the seas.” 

The G7 likewise made reference to a 2016 ruling by an international court on a case brought forward by the Philippines, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea. 

“We reiterate that the award rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal on 12 July 2016 is a significant milestone, which is legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings, and a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes between the parties,” the G7 communique stated.

China does not recognize the 2016 arbitral court ruling.

In a statement on July 11, 2023 to mark the seventh anniversary of the ruling, Global Affairs Canada noted that China’s refusal to accept the tribunal decision and its “coercive behaviour …  are dangerous, and incompatible with China’s obligations under international law”. 

“We stand with the Philippines and all Association Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states in upholding international law as the essential basis for safe and responsible maritime activity,” the statement declared.

The Philippines and Canada are marking in 2024 the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. 

On January 19, 2024, the two countries entered into a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) to boost defence cooperation.

The agreement was signed was signed by Gilbert Teodoro Jr., Secretary of National Defense of the Philippines, and David Bruce Hartman, Canadian ambassador to the Philippines.

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