MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines slammed China on Monday, August 18, for conducting regular “sovereignty patrols” in the South China Sea by deploying ships with the sole purpose of staking Beijing's claim in the disputed waters.
The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) protested this “emerging pattern” after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, in an interview aired Sunday, August 17, said the military recently spotted two Chinese hydrographic ships in Recto (Reed) Bank.
The potentially oil-rich Recto Bank is located in the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, DFA spokesman Charles Jose asserted that Recto Bank falls within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state's baselines or edges, within which it has the exclusive rights to exploit sea resources.
Jose said: “We are protesting the conduct of sovereignty patrols by Chinese vessels on Recto Bank. The frequent passage of Chinese vessels in Recto Bank is not an innocent exercise of freedom of navigation, but is actually done as part of the pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols in the Philippine EEZ, pursuant to China's unilateral effort to change the status quo in the South China Sea.”
Asked to define “sovereignty patrol,” Jose said: “There's a difference when you're just passing by and just exercising your right of freedom of navigation, but it's a different thing when you have a constant presence. You're moving but you're constantly there, in your effort to exercise sovereign rights.”
Jose explained that the sovereignty patrols refer not only to the hydrographic ships that Aquino cited, but to the “emerging pattern” of China asserting its presence in the West Philippine Sea.
He cited the constant presence, at any given time, of 4 to 5 coast guard vessels in Ayungin Shoal, where a Philippine warship remains stranded and serves as a military detachment.
He also said Chinese fishermen in the disputed waters remain “supported by the Chinese coast guard.”
Aquino fears worsening tension
Jose said the DFA will file a diplomatic protest against China over these sovereignty patrols as soon as possible.
He pointed out that these patrols violate the following:
Jose asserted: “In accordance with UNCLOS, the Philippines has exclusive sovereignty rights over Recto Bank or Reed Bank. No other state is lawfully entitled to assert sovereignty or sovereign rights over the said area.”
He also said China's sovereignty patrols specifically violate Paragraph 5 of the DOC, which says claimant states should “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
Paragraph 5 of the DOC also lies at the heart of the Philippines' Triple Action Plan (TAP), a proposal to resolve South China Sea disputes by, among other things, imposing a freeze on provocative activities.
China has rejected the Philippines' TAP while other Southeast Asian countries have adopted only parts of it and have not specified the activities to be suspended. (READ: PH hits China over sea plan: 'We're humoring ourselves')
While China dismissed the proposed moratorium, Aquino said he fears the worsening of tensions in the South China Sea due to the two hydrographic ships that the Philippines spotted. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.