AFP chief to increase sea patrols

The new Armed Forces of the Philippines chief said Tuesday he would increase patrols in contested waters due to what he described as an "alarming" China law that allows its Coast Guard to at foreign vessels and tear down structures built by other countries.

NEW NAVY SHIP. The Philippine Navy welcomes the future BRP Antonio Luna (FF151), the second missile-capable frigate of the Navy, as it traverses Philippine waters in the vicinity of Capones Island, Zambales on Tuesday. PN Photo
Filipinos only seek to earn a livelihood when they sail out to Philippine waters which China claims, said AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.

"It's very alarming po iyon. I should say it's a very irresponsible statement," he said of the new China law.

"As part of our mandate to protect the people,we will increase our visibility through the deployment of more  naval assets," Sobejana said in a public briefing, but clarified the deployment would be sent out "not to wage war against China, but to secure our people."

The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest over the China coast guard law.

Meanwhile, two US carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea Tuesday, days after a US warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the United States for damaging peace and stability.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group "conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities", the US Navy said, marking the first dual carrier operations in the busy waterway since July 2020.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by US warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a "show of force" was not conducive to regional peace and stability.

"China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea," he said. 

The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of the destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation - the first such mission by the US navy since President Joe Biden took office.

Last month, the US military said Chinese military flights over the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilizing and aggressive behavior but posed no threat to a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region.

The United States has contested China's extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing it of militarizing the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbors such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who have claims that overlap with China's in the resource-rich area.

"We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law," Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement.

China has been infuriated by repeated US sailings near the islands it occupies and controls in the South China Sea. China says it has irrefutable sovereignty and has accused the United States of deliberately stoking tension.

China has also been angered by US warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, including one last week, also the first such operation under the Biden administration.

Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said US ships and aircraft carrying out freedom of navigation operations was reassuring.

"This demonstrates the clear US attitude towards challenges to the security status quo in the Indo-Pacific region," she said.

Meanwhile, a French nuclear attack submarine was among two navy ships that recently conducted a patrol through the South China Sea, its defence minister announced, in a move likely to anger Beijing, which claims most of the strategic waters as its territory.

The SNA Emeraude was accompanied by support ship BSAM Seine for the passage, Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter late Monday.

"This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the South China Sea. A striking proof of the capacity of our French Navy to deploy far away and for a long time together with our Australian, American and Japanese strategic partners," she tweeted along with a picture of the two vessels at sea.

China lays claim to nearly all of the South China Sea while Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all also claim parts of the region, believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.

US warships occasionally carry out "freedom of navigation" missions through or close to waters claimed by Beijing to stress Washington's rejection of those claims.

The USS John S. McCain last week sailed near islands in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing and conducted a transit through the Taiwan Strait, prompting a warning from China.

NATO member France has exclusive economic zones in the Pacific around its overseas territories and has stressed the importance of defending freedom of navigation in the region.

"Why such a mission? To enrich our knowledge of this area and affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea where we sail," Parly tweeted.

The French patrol comes after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, who has underscored support for Washington's Asian allies after four chaotic years of the Donald Trump administration.

In April 2019, there was a naval incident in the Taiwan Strait when Chinese ships told the French frigate Vendemiaire to leave the waterway that separates the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, another sensitive area claimed by Beijing.

Topics: Armed Forces of the Philippines , Coast Guard , China , Cirilito Sobejana , Wang Wenbin , Philippine Navy
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