PH decries China plans to fly planes from disputed islands
The Philippines on Saturday called for Chinese restraint in the South China Sea, describing as “provocative” China’s plan to start launching civilian flights to and from the contested Paracels within a year.
“We reiterate our previous statements on China’s unilateral and provocative actions in the South China Sea,” said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Charles Jose.
Asked if the Philippines may be expected to file a diplomatic protest over the incident, Jose said, “We’ll have to study that.”
The foreign office had earlier criticized Chinese incursions in the South China Sea, saying its island-building, military buildup, sea patrols and other activities that encroached upon sovereign territories of other claimants were violations of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Jose expressed the sentiment anew yesterday, saying China should desist from its activities and “not do anything more that would further complicate the situation.”
Chinese state media on Friday reported Beijing’s plan to begin regular flights to and from Sansha City on Woody Island in the Paracels, a Chinese-controlled island chain claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
It is yet another development in a string of unilateral acts that China has undertaken of late, stoking tensions in the resource-rich waters being claimed by five other parties—the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The United States, which has voiced concerns about China’s assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea, said launching such flights could complicate disputes between rival claimants in the region.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
A spokesperson for the US Department of State said launching the flights would be “inconsistent with the region’s commitments to exercise restraint from actions that could complicate or escalate disputes.”
“China should heed its prior public commitments to cease land reclamation and militarization on their outposts in the South China Sea, and instead focus on reaching agreement on acceptable behavior in disputed areas,” Anna Richey-Allen said.
Beijing recently deployed surface-to-air missiles on the same island, and also sent ships to the Jackson (Quirino) Atoll off Palawan to “persuade fishing boats to leave the waters in an effort to ensure safety conditions for normal navigation.”
Beijing says it is entitled to “limited defensive facilities” on its territory, and dismissed reports about the missile placement as media hype. China says much of the infrastructure it is building is purely civilian in nature and will benefit other countries.
The ships have already left. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed the deployment but said the ships were sent to save a fishing vessel that had run aground close to the atoll late last year.
The Philippines has a pending arbitration bid to invalidate China’s sweeping nine-dash-line claim over almost the entirety of the South China Sea. The United Nations arbitral tribunal is expected to rule on the case within the first half of the year.
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