DND says China’s activities near Pag-asa Is. threaten PH sovereignty
The government has ordered the military to beef up its presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) following Chinese activities monitored near Pag-asa Island.
In a statement Thursday, the Department of National Defense (DND) said any encroachment or reclamation on the features in the WPS is a threatto the security of Pag-asa Island, which is part of the country’s sovereign territory.
The DND said such actions also endanger the marine environment and undermine the stability of the region.
“We strongly urge China to uphold the prevailing rules-based international order and refrain from acts that will exacerbate tensions in the WPS and the larger South China Sea,” the statement read.
Earlier, DND officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. expressed alarm over the reported swarming of Chinese ships off Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the WPS and maintained that they will not give up any part of the country’s territory and will continue regular maritime and air patrols.
Another incident that took place Nov. 20 involved the Chinese Coast Guard reportedly interfering with efforts of Western Command personnel to recover an unidentified floating object—said to be rocket debris–spotted near Pag-asa Island.
The order to beef up the military presence in the WPS came two days after media reported that Beijing has begun reclaiming more land in the contested Spratly Islands, a major archipelago in the South China Sea that hosts military installations by a number of countries.
Beijing claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually. Rival claimants are the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
China has ignored a 2016 ruling from a UN-backed tribunal that nullified its extensive claims on the South China Sea.
In recent years it has built artificial islands on reefs while constructing military facilities and airstrips.
Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing satellite images from US officials, that new land formations have emerged in the Spratlys, on Eldad Reef, Whitsun Reef, Lankiam Cay and Sandy Cay.
China’s foreign ministry called the report “completely groundless.”
Sandy Cay lies seven kilometers west of Thitu, where the Philippines runs an airstrip along with military and coast guard detachments. A small civilian community also lives there.
Lankiam Cay is about 45 kilometers southeast of Thitu, while the two other reefs are farther away.
The Philippines has repeatedly accused Chinese coast guard and maritime militias of harassing and attacking fishing boats and other vessels in the region.
Manila filed a diplomatic protest last week after a Chinese coast guard vessel in November “forcefully” took control of debris from a Chinese rocket retrieved by a Philippine navy vessel off Thitu.
China denied using force, with its embassy in Manila saying the debris was handed over after “friendly consultation.”
China on Thursday reaffirmed its commitment to not occupy nor reclaim the uninhabited islands and reefs of the Spratly Islands and maintained that it “always abides” by a declaration it agreed on with Southeast Asian countries.
In a press conference in Beijing, Mao Ning, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, said that “refraining from action” on the features of the Spratly (Nansha) Islands ”is a serious common understanding reached by China and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).”
”And China always strictly abides by it,” she said.
The Chinese official made the statement after Bloomberg released a report that cited Western officials as saying that China is building up several unoccupied land features in the South China Sea, with new land formations having appeared above water over the past year at Eldad Reef in the northern Spratlys.
Located on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in West Philippine Sea, Spratly Islands are an archipelago also being claimed by China.
Despite recent incidents and protests filed by Manila, Mao said the relationship between the Philippines and China “currently enjoys sound momentum.”
”And the two sides will continue to properly handle maritime issues through friendly consultations,” she added.
Also on Thursday, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said she expects President Marcos to firmly assert the Philippines’ sovereign and legal rights in the West Philippine Sea during his state visit to China in January.
She said everything to be discussed should be in the context of China’s incessant incursions into Philippine territories.
Due to this, she said every prospective deal or engagement should be premised upon China’s recognition of the Philippine’s rightful ownership of the WPS.
In his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, she said President Marcos should make it clear to the Chinese leader his commitmentduring his State of the Nation Address not to give up a square inch of Philippine territory.
“Even during the previous administration, I always reminded the Chief Executive to stand up to China, to push back against the gradual degradation of our sovereignty, to resist the tactics that threaten peace and stability in the region,” Hontiveros said.
“I am pleased that finally, under this administration, all senators have recently unanimously supported a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that condemns the continued intimidation, threats, and harassment of Chinese vessels toward Philippine boats and personnel,” she said.
Before any talk of joint exploration for oil, China should first recognize and respect the 2016 arbitral ruling, Hontiveros said.
“Only then could both parties start to truthfully and faithfully discuss a joint exploration,” she said. With AFP