The United States on Saturday called for China to stop harassing Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, pledging to stand with the Philippines at a time of simmering geopolitical tension.
"We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The Philippines accused China's coast guard of "aggressive tactics" Friday following an incident during a Philippine coast guard patrol close to the Philippines-held Second Thomas Shoal, a flashpoint for previous altercations located 105 nautical miles (195 km) off its coast.
The Second Thomas Shoal is home to a small military contingent aboard a rusty World War II-era U.S. ship that was intentionally grounded in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines' territorial claims. In February, the Philippines said a Chinese ship had directed a "military-grade laser" at one of its resupply vessels.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea with a "nine-dash line" on maps that stretches more than 1,500 km off its mainland and cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. An international arbitral ruling in 2016 dismissed that line as having no legal basis.
China's foreign ministry said Friday the Philippine vessels had intruded into Chinese waters and made deliberate provocative moves.
The State Department said Washington "stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order."