Philippines protests intrusion of 3 Chinese vessels
The Philippines has protested to China the alleged intrusion of three Chinese vessels into the country’s territorial waters last month, in the latest flaring of tensions over the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Philippine government expressed its “serious concerns” to the Chinese Embassy after the three vessels, including a Chinese Navy ship, were sighted near Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on December 11 and 12, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Sunday.
Escoda Shoal is “within Philippine sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction,” Del Rosario said.
Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, the head of Western Command based in Palawan, said a Philippine Navy patrol ship and an Air Force plane kept watch from a distance until the Chinese vessels left the country’s territorial waters.
The vessels apparently came from the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, then cruised into Philippine waters on their way back to China as part of a regular shifting of forces, he said.
“We were watching them. They did not drop anchor or unload construction materials and appeared to be just passing through,” Sabban told The Associated Press.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Del Rosario, the new Chinese intrusions violated a 2002 accord between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that discourages countries claiming all or some of the Spratly Islands from taking aggressive steps that could ignite tension or confrontations.
China, the Philippines and four other claimants have long been locked in a tense dispute over potentially oil- and gas-rich areas in the Spratlys.
Many fear the region could be Asia’s next potential flash point for conflict.
The Philippines, along with Vietnam, separately accused Chinese vessels of repeatedly intruding into Spratlys areas under their control and sabotaging oil explorations in their regular territorial waters in the first six months of last year.
China denied the claims and reiterated its sovereignty over most of the area.
Amid the disputes, the Philippines turned to the United States, a defense treaty ally, to strengthen its underfunded military, one of Asia’s weakest.
The Philippine Navy relaunched an old US Coast Guard cutter as its biggest warship last month to guard its waters near the Spratlys.
President Benigno Aquino III plans to travel to the United States this year to seek two more ships and a squadron of F-16 jets, according to Del Rosario.