MANILA, Philippines -The Philippines on Friday reiterated its calls for respect to its maritime domains in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying that it “strongly objects” to Chinese patrol of these areas.
“The Philippines again calls on China to respect our territorial sovereignty and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Philippines strongly objects to the Chinese patrol of Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said in a statement sent to reporters.
“Such patrol will not validate the nine-dash lines (claim of China) and is contrary to China’s obligation under international law including Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the statement added.
The DFA issued the statement after reports noted that China sent its first patrol vessel to the disputed areas Thursday ahead of the enforcement of new rules that authorized Chinese border police to board, search and expel foreign vessels from waters Beijing considers its territory.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the patrol ship Haixun 21 sailed into the high seas under the administration of the Maritime Safety Administration of Hainan province, from which China administers the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario had earlier said that the DFA had tasked the country’s embassy in Beijing, as well as the Chinese embassy in Manila, for clarification of the new maritime rules, as well as of reports that China was investing $1.6 billion to fortify and develop islands involved in territorial disputes with Southeast Asian nations in the West Philippine Sea.
The United States and other Southeast Asian nations had also pressed for clarifications on the purpose and extent of the new rules which are reported to come into effect on Jan. 1.
In its report Thursday, Xinhua quoted Ruan Ruiwen, head of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration, as saying that the Haixun 21’s departure for the South China Sea marked the beginning of Chinese sailing beyond coastal waters.
“In the past, Hainan provincial maritime law enforcement entities could only cover coastal waters and never reached the high seas. The newly enlisted Haixun 21 ends the history of no large oceangoing patrol vessels in South China Sea,” Ruan said.
Xinhua also quoted Huang He, deputy head of the maritime bureau of China’s Ministry of Transport, as saying that the vessel “will monitor maritime traffic safety, investigate maritime accidents, detect pollution, carry out search and rescue work, and fulfill international conventions.”
China claims almost the entire West Philippine Sea, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam claim parts of the sea within their exclusive economic zones. Taiwan also claims some islands in the sea.
Tensions between China and the Philippines have risen in the area since April after ships from both countries had a standoff over a rock outcropping known as the Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines claims the said shoal is within its 200-nautical mile EEZ.