Philippines weighs move on China incursion
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is weighing what course of action to take in the wake of the latest Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) even as the country asserted its capability to defend its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday that it was already coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy to plan a response to the presence of Chinese military and fishing vessels around the Ayungin Shoal.
“We are assessing our options and no one should doubt our resolve to defend what is ours,” said DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.
He could not say if the Philippines would be sending any ships to the Ayungin Shoal, which the DFA has reiterated is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical miles continental shelf, being just 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan.
On May 10, the DFA filed a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila to formally complain about the “provocative and illegal” presence of two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one warship along with a fleet of some 30 fishing vessels near the shoal.
“As the President said, what is ours is ours and we will do everything to defend it,” said Hernandez.
He said the DFA was already discussing options with the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard but refused to discuss the details.
Hernandez again cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) provision as the basis of the Philippines’ sovereignty rights over its EEZ, an area that overlaps with China’s nine-dash line claim which Manila has many times called an “excessive declaration” of maritime boundaries.
“In accordance with Unclos, only the Philippines has sovereign rights over the continental shelf and the EEZ in the area, where the Ayungin Shoal is located. No other state is lawfully entitled to assert sovereignty or sovereign rights over the area,” said Hernandez.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has yet to comment on the issue.
China’s latest foray into Philippine maritime territory comes amid the government’s optimism about finally settling conflicts on maritime entitlements with Beijing through its arbitration case before the UN arbitral tribunal. The is hoping that the panel will begin tackling the merits of the case by July.
The legal action seeks to halt Chinese intrusions into the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf and to invalidate the nine-dash line, which includes almost all territories in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea under Chinese sovereignty.
The Armed Forces (AFP) on Wednesday said it will follow the policy set by the Aquino administration to “deescalate” the situation in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.
It said the military is limiting its operations to monitoring the reported presence of Chinese vessels in the disputed Kalayaan group in the Spratlys, particularly in Ayungin Shoal, which the Philippines has claimed.
AFP public affairs chief Maj. Ramon Zagala said the military “has been conducting maritime patrols by air” and reports to the its observations to the defense department.
“Our task at the moment, before anything else, is to support the peaceful resolution of our conflict in the Kalayaan Island Groups. The AFP supports the diplomatic actions or the protest by our government as a peaceful means to resolve the issue,” Zagala told reporters.
Asked if the AFP would send more ships to the Ayungin Shoal, Zagala replied:
“We are trying to deescalate the situation so that we follow the diplomatic solution. If we increase our presence there, then we are just going to escalate the situation. We will follow the solution our government wants. So our presence there is the same and we continue to monitor and follow whatever direction President Aquino will give us.”
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