Palace concerned but not threatened by Beijing’s aggressive actions
Malacañang on Monday expressed “serious concerns” over China’s deployment of long-range bombers to a disputed island in the South China Sea, but said it saw no threat to the Philippines because of the “newfound friendship” between Manila and Beijing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it was taking “appropriate diplomatic action” to protect the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea, but did not state what steps it had taken to protect the country’s sovereignty in the heavily contested waterway.
China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force announced on Friday that its H-6K long-range bombers had landed and taken off from Woody Island, in the Paracel archipelago, as part of training exercises to improve its ability to “reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time in all directions” in the South China Sea.
With a combat radius of nearly 3,500 kilometers, the H-6K deployment would put all of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, in its range from Woody Island, according to the Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
‘Clear and present danger’
The announcement drew angry reactions from opposition lawmakers, who prodded the government to protest China’s increasing militarization of the South China Sea and President Rodrigo Duterte to call a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) to tackle the growing threat to the Philippines.
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez described the H-6K deployments as a “clear and present danger” to the Philippines.
“I strongly recommend for the Philippines finally to lodge a very strong diplomatic protest, as this is really a serious development,” Golez said in a television interview on Sunday.
China on Monday dismissed concerns over its deployment of bombers, insisting that the “South China Sea islands are Chinese territories.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular press briefing that the movement of bombers into the area was “part of normal training for the Chinese military,” and that the United States “sending its own warships and planes to the region … poses a danger to other countries.”
The Philippine government could not independently verify the presence of the Chinese bombers on islands in the South China Sea, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday.
“But we take note of the reports that appeared and we express our serious concerns anew on its impact to efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” Roque told a regular press briefing in Malacañang.
He noted the calls for an NSC meeting, but said the President did not see any immediate threat to the Philippines.
‘China not a threat’
“[W]e do not consider China to be a threat to our security right now because of our newfound friendship with China,” Roque said.
Asked whether that meant China could land bombers on Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratly archipelago, Roque replied: “Well, can you please ask China because they control the islands.”
The government, however, will take diplomatic action if China does land planes on Philippine-claimed reefs in the region, Roque added.
China recently landed military transport planes and deployed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on Kagitingan Reef (internationally known as Fiery Cross Reef), Zamora (Subi) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef—all claimed by the Philippines but seized and transformed into artificial islands by China.
On Monday, the DFA said it was “closely monitoring” developments.
“We are taking the appropriate diplomatic action necessary to protect our claims and will continue to do so in the future,” it said in a statement.
“We reiterate our commitment to protect every single inch of our territory and areas which we have sovereign rights over,” it said, without providing specifics.
The DFA again stopped short of condemning China’s threat to its rivals for territory in the South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has refused to state publicly what the DFA is doing to defend Philippine sovereignty in the strategic waterway and instead has insisted that the Duterte administration’s tack in dealing with the territorial dispute with China has resulted in economic gains for the Philippines.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the President for not confronting China in preference for his strategy to win Beijing’s friendship and economic goodwill, despite a favorable ruling the Philippines won in its challenge to China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July 2016.
The President has repeatedly stressed he will not risk confrontation with China and has reiterated his openness to joint exploration and development in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
In his television interview on Sunday, Golez reminded the President of the importance of national security, saying “it cannot be compromised” for economic gains.
“We cannot compromise our territorial integrity,” he said.
Defend PH territory
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led the Philippine team in the Hague arbitration, followed up on Monday, reminding the President that the Constitution requires him “to defend what is lawfully ours.”
Del Rosario also called the administration’s attention to the 2016 Pulse Asia poll that showed more than eight in 10 Filipinos wanted the government to assert the Philippines’ rights as awarded by the arbitral court.
The military declined to comment on China’s latest aggressive move in the South China Sea.
But Col. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, gave assurance that the military would not renege on its duty to defend the country’s sovereignty. —With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade, ABS-CBN, and the wires
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