China ships stop passing through PH waters
MANILA, Philippines — The Western Mindanao military chief observed on Sunday that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships have stopped passing through Philippine territorial waters following several diplomatic protests by the government.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana surmised that China’s leadership might have already told off its PLAN warships on their unannounced passage through Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi, the last incident of which was on Aug. 4.
In an interview aired on Sunday over radio station dzBB, Sobejana said that foreign ships passing through Sibutu Strait were allowed innocent passage and the Navy only communicated with them to check if they were encountering problems such as piracy.
Ensure safe passage
“It is our responsibility to ensure their safe passage with roughly $51 billion yearly worth of cargo passing through that sea lane. It is just fitting that we ensure that they are safe and secure when they pass through,” the Westmincom chief pointed out.
He assured, “We have not blocked any [private] ship and allow them to pass through. We communicate with them to ensure they are not having problems.”
As for warships, Sobejana said, it would be a “gesture of respect” if they would make prior coordination and obtain diplomatic clearance.
“It is just so that we are also aware and we are not alarmed by the presence of foreign warships in our territorial waters,” he explained.
In the case of the Chinese battleships, he said that what was concerning was the fact that they turned off their automatic identification system and refused to communicate when called on during several incidents of “innocent passage” since February.
Sobejana pointed out that the country’s diplomatic engagements with China appeared to have worked since the last sighting of a Chinese warship passing through Sibutu Strait was on Aug. 4.
“China’s leadership is already aware. I am sure that they are aware of these incursions and since Aug. 4 there has been no sighting,” he said.
Sobejana added, “I think the national leadership in China has issued guidance to the PLAN not to pass through our territorial waters without permission or advance information.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana previously caused diplomatic protests to be fired off to China following several incidents of unannounced passage of several Chinese warships through Sibutu Strait.
He said that Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua confirmed the passage of several PLAN ships through Sibutu Strait since February.
He likewise promised prior coordination of the PLAN for future passage through Philippine territorial waters.
Lorenzana had said that while the unannounced passage of Chinese warships through the country’s internal waters did not violate any law, it was a “failure to observe courtesy, protocol or common courtesy.”
But even after Zhao’s assurance, the Westmincom chief confirmed fresh sightings of at least five warships passing through Sibutu Strait: one incident involving four vessels on July 2 and another on Aug. 4 involving only one warship.
Sobejana had said that when the Chinese warships spotted Philippine coastal patrol ships and other naval assets, “They immediately avoided the area and sailed out of our territory.”
13 incidents recorded
The defense establishment has recorded 13 incidents of unannounced passage through Philippine internal waters by Chinese warships since February: nine through Sibutu Strait and four through Palawan’s Balabac Strait in June.
In response, President Duterte has ordered all foreign vessels passing through Philippine territorial waters to “notify and get clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage.”
He warned that compliance with the directive would be ensured “in a friendly or unfriendly manner.”
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