MANILA, Philippines—Philippine naval security forces are set to conduct “sovereignty patrols” in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) to check on possible intrusions by Chinese vessels conducting naval exercises within the country’s maritime boundaries, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.
DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said Thursday the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard were sailing to waters in disputed areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf to check on the presence of Chinese navy ships.
The Philippines and China are locked in a struggle over parts of the Spratlys group of islands and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which are clearly within the Philippines’ EEZ.
A fleet of Chinese vessels has reportedly deployed for drills on “actual combat” scenarios in the West Philippine Sea, the waters of which are almost wholly being claimed by China and partially claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
The Philippines has a pending case for arbitration against China in the United Nations arbitral tribunal to stop Chinese incursions into Philippine-claimed parts of the West Philippine Sea. The legal action also seeks to invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim, which encroaches on Philippine maritime borders.
China has rejected the arbitration plea but the Philippines is confident proceedings will continue even without the other party’s participation.
“Our Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard [were] asked to verify [if there were] reported intrusions,” Hernandez said.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported earlier this week that four Chinese warships—equipped with four helicopters and a hovercraft—deployed off southern China’s Hainan province for training exercises in the West Philippine Sea.
Xinhua said the warships would undertake training exercises that include “command post establishment, operational maneuvering from the sea and high sea convoy missions.”
Without directly commenting on the report, Hernandez said, “It is always important that other countries respect our maritime zones and territories because such exercises could not be undertaken without our permission if they are done [in areas that] encompass part of our national territory.”
The Chinese naval exercises are part of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s “regular arrangement” under its annual training program. Seven similar exercises were held last year, according to Xinhua.