THE Philippines on Wednesday branded China’s test landing of a plane on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys a provocative action that raises tensions in the region, and said it was the start of Beijing’s “air defense zone” over the disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said a diplomatic protest was handed to a Chinese Embassy representative, after two more test flights touched down on Fiery Cross Reef, which the Philippines claims as its own.
“We formally protested on 8 January 2016 the recent test flights conducted by China to the Kagitingan Reef [Fiery Cross Reef] and its provocative actions restricting the freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea,” Jose said.
“The Philippines’ criticism has ulterior motives and is not worth refuting,” replied Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in a news briefing in Beijing
Japan also complained of Chinese intrusions in the East China Sea and warned that foreign naval vessel that enters Japanese territorial waters for reasons other than “innocent passage” will be told to leave by a Japanese naval patrol.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo had informed Bijing of its decision in November, after Chinese navy ships sailed near the disputed island called Senkaku island by Japan and Diaoyu by China.
Japan’s government, Suga said, had approved this course of action last May.
Hong Lei, asked about the remarks, said China was determined to protect its territory, repeating its standard line that the islands had been Chinese “since ancient times.”
Jose said China’s actions elevated the already high tensions in the region after Vietnam condemned China’s first test flight in the disputed area.
“These actions by China have elevated tensions and anxiety in the region and are in violation of the spirit and letter of the Asean China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties,” Jose said.
The Philippines denounced the flights and warned that if China was not challenged it was likely to impose an “unacceptable” air defense zone over the area.
China has asserted its claim to almost all of the South China Sea by rapidly building artificial islands including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.
The Spratly islands chain is claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has earlier said that the Philippine government is very concerned about the landings on Fiery Cross Reef.
‘If this is not challenged, we will have a situation where China will take a position that an air defense identification zone could be imposed.
‘These are provocative actions which we need to think about and we need to take positions on,” he said.
Last week, Beijing rejected a protest from Vietnam over its first test flight, saying the operation took place within Chinese territory.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said there was a need for the Philippines and the United States to create a credible defense posture and enhance the interoperability of both military forces.
He made this statement during the Philippine-US 2+2 ministerial meeting held in Washington D.C. Tuesday night (Philippine time).
Gazmin said that the US and the Philippines share common security concerns including territorial and maritime disputes, emphasizing that working together to address them would bring peace in the region.
“While we grapple with nontraditional security concerns and natural man-made disasters, traditional security challenges, to include territorial and maritime disputes, remain to be fundamental concerns,” he said.
“Given this strategic context, we should be in a position to address such common concerns, as well as contribute to regional peace and stability,” he added.
Gazmin said the Philippines is looking forward in deepening its strategic partnership with the US to ensure that an “effective alliance that is responsive to the challenges of the 21st century.”
Gazmin added this year’s meeting is a manifestation of the strong state of Philippine and American allegiance.
“We have come a long way since we signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, and our frameworks of cooperation continue to evolve, from the Visiting Forces Agreement to Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement [Edca] in 2014,” Gazmin said.
In a 10-4-1 vote on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared the Edca constitutional.
It also upheld the position of the government that the latter is an executive agreement and does not need the Senate concurrence.
Finalized after eight rounds of talks that began in August 2013, Edca, which was signed in 2014, allows US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels, but rules out permanent basing.
Vietnam on Wednesday accused China of making “erroneous statements” over their diplomatic spat over flights to Fiery Cross Reef.
Hanoi fired off the latest barb late Tuesday in the increasingly bitter diplomatic spat, saying China was making “erroneous statements” by claiming it had informed Vietnamese air traffic control about the flights.
“Ho Chi Minh... Control Center did not receive any notification by China of the flight plans,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The flights are “aimed at asserting their illegal sovereignty claims over the Trong Sa archipelago,” he said, referring to the Spratlys by their Vietnamese name.
Vietnam this year logged at least 46 incidents of Chinese planes flying without warning through airspace monitored by air traffic control in the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, according to authorities cited by local media.
State media also reported that Vietnam sent a protest letter about the flights to Beijing, as well as the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.
Beijing began work in 2014 on a 3,000-meter runway on Fiery Cross Reef, around 1,000 kilometers from China’s island province of Hainan.
China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea puts it at odds with regional neighbors the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which also stake partial claims. With PNA, AFP
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