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Philippines protests China ‘sovereignty patrols’

Publication Date : 19-08-2014


The Philippines on Monday slammed what it called China’s “illegitimate sovereignty patrols” of Philippine waters, following President Aquino’s revelation that two Chinese research vessels had been spotted on oil-rich Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will file a diplomatic protest “as soon as possible” against the latest Chinese incursion on Recto Bank (Reed Bank), the department's spokesman, Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, told reporters.

Jose made it clear the protest would deal not only with the Recto Bank incident but with what appeared to be China’s “constant and overwhelming presence” in areas where the Philippines has exclusive sovereignty rights.

Research vessels

Aquino disclosed on Sunday the presence of two Chinese hydrographic research vessels on Recto Bank, questioning China’s intention as well as expressing hope this would not lead to increased tension between Manila and Beijing.

Aquino’s disclosure came a week after Manila won the backing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on its proposal to reduce tensions in the South China Sea, and on a Washington proposal for all parties to freeze activities that may elevate tension in the area.

Late Monday afternoon, the Department of National Defence (DND) said the two Chinese vessels had left Recto Bank but did not say when they left or how long they were in the area.

Defence spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the vessels, which he identified as the Xiang Yang Hong 14 and 792, were capable of conducting mopping of the seabed.

Galvez said the ships could stay at sea for up to a month. The ships could either have returned to where they came from or were still roaming Philippine waters, he said.

“Those ships can (still) be roaming our waters, our exclusive economic zone, without us knowing what they are actually doing,” Galvez said.
He said the presence of the vessels was monitored on Recto Bank in June.

“We are protesting the conduct of Chinese vessels on Recto Bank,” Jose said at a press briefing, reading from a prepared statement.

Jose added: “The frequent passage of Chinese vessels on Recto Bank is not an innocent exercise of freedom of navigation but is actually … part of a pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone pursuant to China’s unilateral effort to change the status quo in the South China Sea.”

He said the Chinese sovereignty patrols were in “violation” of both the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2002 Declaration of Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which calls on claimant countries in the disputed area to exercise self-restraint.

Exclusive rights

Jose maintained that under Unclos, the Philippines had exclusive sovereignty rights over Recto Bank, 157 kilometers from the nearest coast of Palawan and 1,102 km from the coast of Hainan.

Recto Bank also forms part of the continental shelf of the Philippine archipelago under Unclos.

“No other state is lawfully entitled to assert sovereignty or sovereign rights over the said area,” Jose said.

‘Emerging pattern’

Jose said the Recto Bank incident showed there was an “emerging pattern of Chinese presence in the South China Sea,” where China is claiming 90 per cent of the disputed sea.

Asked when the Chinese vessels were spotted, Jose said the DFA received intelligence reports of the sightings only this month.

He said the government was concerned not only about the presence of the Chinese hydrographic vessels on Recto Bank but also about the overall situation.

“There’s a difference when you’re just passing by, you’re just exercising your right of freedom of navigation,” Jose said. “But’s it’s a different thing when you have a constant presence, even though you’re moving, but you’re constantly there in your effort to exercise sovereign rights.”

He said that aside from Recto Bank, Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) was also being watched over by four or five Chinese Coast Guard ships.
“That’s part of a pattern—there is a constant presence,” Jose said.

Other measures

Jose said the government was considering other measures to address the latest Chinese incursions on Recto Bank.

“Aside from filing a protest, we’re also exploring other measures that would address the issue,” Jose said. He declined to say what these measures were.

“We can’t telegraph our response,” he said.

Manila has filed an arbitration case in the United Nations tribunal on China’s so-called “nine-dash line claim” over the entire South China Sea, which includes areas claimed by the Philippines.

Recto Bank is a potentially oil- and gas-rich area. Chinese ships tried to drive away a Philippine exploration vessel there in March 2011. A general deployed two Philippine Air Force planes, but the Chinese patrol ships had left by the time the aircraft reached the contested area.

There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese Embassy to Manila’s claim.


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