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Beijing pushes sea aggression

PH ‘strongly objects’ to Chinese naval drills China continued its aggressive moves towards reinforcing its claim over the contested waters and territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), by conducting maritime patrols, both in the waters and in the air space above the contested areas. The Chinese’ aggressive actions were made in defiance of other claims, especially from the Philippines,  which had hoped to resolve the issue of its claim by bringing its case against China before an international tribunal. China’s Xinhua News Agency reported on Friday that a Chinese helicopter patrolled parts of the disputed Spratly Islands on Monday. The news website quoted an official of the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration as saying that the chopper monitored part of the Islands. “The helicopter took off from the Haixun 31, a marine surveillance ship, to monitor maritime traffic in waters near Dongmen Reef of the Nansha Islands,” it said. The administration added that this was the first time a Chinese maritime helicopter was dispatched to patrol the South China Sea. China refers to the Spratlys as the Nansha Islands, which is also being contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Xinhua said the Haixun 31 is one of three Chinese marine surveillance ships that left Sanya Port in Hainan province last Thursday. China said the patrol seeks to boost China’s maritime law enforcement capacity and test the patrol team’s response abilities in the South China Sea. The report said that the helicopter has “covered 800 nautical miles, monitored the navigation environment in waters near the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands and conducted safety inspections for more than 40 Chinese and foreign vessels.” Aside from the helicopter patrol,  the Chinese continued to underscore its might in the waters, following the deployment of its largest fishery administration ship, the “Yuzheng 312,” which began its maiden patrol on the South China Sea on Friday. The ship, the Chinese fleet’s largest in terms of displacement, left Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province, at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. It sailed to the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea to carry out a law enforcement mission. Xinhua said “routine fishery administrative patrols” around the Nansha Islands were being carried out to “better safeguard the legitimate interests of Chinese fishermen.” Xinhua also reported that several Chinese vessels sailed to the South China Sea on March 19 and the Western Pacific Ocean to conduct combat readiness patrol and high-sea training. The Foreign Affairs Department, said on Friday that it “strongly objects’ to the continuing naval drills in the Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea.” Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said he was calling on China to respect the Philippines’ maritime zones facing the South China Sea amid reports of ongoing Chinese naval drills in the resource-rich waters that Beijing claims in whole. At the same time, Hernandez said they were still ascertaining the exact location of the exercises. “The government is in the process of determining the exact location of the exercises, which could fuel tensions anew if China would insist on holding it in areas being claimed by the Philippines and other claimants. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are also staking claims to the waters, in which some parts are called West Philippine Sea by the Philippines.” He said the new Chinese intrusions violated a 2002 accord between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that discourages countries claiming parts of the China sea that could ignite tension or confrontations. He said the Philippine Coast Guard will conduct a sovereignty patrol in the West Philippine Sea to ensure that there will be no Chinese Navy intrusions. “As of yesterday, they don’t have a report of possible intrusions of Chinese ships in the area that was reported. Our Philippine Coast Guard will be doing its own sovereignty patrol at an appropriate time,” he said. Aside from China’s naval drills,  Taiwan, a province of China,  said it also planned to conduct fire drills in Spratly Island. An official of Taiwan’s coast guard said that they may stage the China, may stage the live-fire exercise next month, which would supposedly take place on Taiping Island in the Spratlys between April 9 and 11. It will involve 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars, both shipped to the island last year to boost Taiwan’s defense capability there. But Taiwan’s planned activity in Spratlys drew a tepid response from the government, which said it would only take action when the fire drills push through. Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office head Ricky Carandang said that they would try to resolve the issue through the usual diplomatic channels. The government made the same “wait-and-see” response when military sources said a Chinese ship “intruded” into one of the islets in the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan,  which is located within the country’s  200-mile exclusive economic zone. The sources quoted local fishermen who said that a “large ship with Chinese markings’ unloaded construction materials in the area. Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, denied that that there was the alleged intrusion of Chinese vessels into the country’s territory. She also said that what the locals saw was a fishing vessel, not a landing ship. On Friday, Valte refused to comment further on the issue when pressed on whether there was an intrusion or not, saying that “we’ll leave that to the assessment of the [Department of Foreign Affairs]. With Vito Barcelo
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