Duterte will talk to Beijing envoy about West Philippine Sea incursion – Palace
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte plans to talk to the Chinese ambassador about China’s latest incursion in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said on Tuesday, after Manila filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of more than 200 Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef in the disputed waters.
“I will repeat what the President said yesterday. He will talk with the Chinese ambassador about this issue. And he said there is nothing that cannot be discussed among friends,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
He did not say when the talks would be held.
Duterte has been currying friendship with Beijing and had refused to assert the international arbitral tribunal’s ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, including the Philippines’ 375-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China has ignored the ruling and insisted on its “historical” claims to the strategic waterway.
The military said there were still 183 vessels believed to belong to China’s maritime militia as of Monday at the reef, which is located about 324 km west of Bataraza—the town at the southern tip of Palawan province.
Support from US Embassy
Also on Tuesday, the US Embassy expressed support for the Philippines and noted that Beijing “uses maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region.”
“We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia,” US Embassy spokesperson Heather Fabrikant said in a statement.
The Chinese Embassy earlier denied that the vessels were operated by China’s maritime militia, saying they were fishing vessels seeking shelter near the reef.
It said the reef, which it calls Niu’e Jiao, was part of China’s Nansha Qundao district.
But the US Embassy said the vessels had been moored in the area “for many months in ever increasing numbers, regardless of the weather.”
The Philippine government also said the weather was clear at the time the Chinese swarmed the reef. The Chinese also showed no actual fishing activities and had their boats’ full white lights turned on during nighttime, it said.
In a Twitter post, the Chinese Embassy snapped at the US Embassy statement, saying the United States was “not a party to the South China Sea issue.”
“Fanning flames and provoking confrontation in the region will only serve the selfish interests of individual country (sic) and undermine the regional peace and stability,’’ the embassy said.
The Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) and is within the Philippines’ EEZ. This means the country has the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources in the area, such as fish, oil and natural gas.
The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the Chinese ships’ presence was a cause for concern due to possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, and risks to safe navigation.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had urged the Chinese government to stop the incursion and immediately recall the vessels, saying it was “a clear provocative action of militarizing the area.”
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the military chief of staff, said a maritime air patrol from the Western Command based in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan reported the continuing presence of the Chinese vessels on Monday.
Sobejana said the AFP and the NTF-WPS would jointly assess “the best course of action to take” on the Chinese incursion.
“For now, we will continue our maritime patrol to check if the number of Chinese vessels in the area would increase or decrease [in the coming days],” he added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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