Withdraw ships, Philippines tells China

By Tarra Quismundo | Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

China should withdraw its ships from Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) because that area of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is an “integral part” of the Philippines’ national territory, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

Ayungin lies 196 kilometres from Palawan province, well within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the DFA, told reporters. “That’s why [China should withdraw its ships from] the area and respect the maritime zones of the Philippines.”

The Philippines on May 10 protested the presence of a fleet of Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by patrol vessels, at Ayungin, but China has not responded.

Instead of answering the Philippine protest, China insisted that it had “indisputable sovereignty” over Ayungin and other parts of the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea.

No security meeting

In response, President Aquino announced a US$1.82-billion spending plan for the modernisation of the military to enable it to defend Philippine territory against “bullies entering our backyard.”

China’s intrusion has spurred calls for a meeting by the National Security Council, but Malacañang says there is no need for such a consultation to deal with the new tensions in the Spratlys.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Monay that Aquino was staying with current efforts, including the diplomatic protest brought by the DFA, to resolve the situation.

Defence officials last week confirmed the presence of two Chinese patrol vessels and a frigate near Ayungin, which the Chinese call Rena’i Reef.

The Chinese media reported that a flotilla of some 30 fishing vessels had been sent to the Spratly Islands, the biggest fishing expedition by China so far this year.

Nine-dash claim

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a news conference in Beijing last week that it was “beyond reproach” for Chinese vessels to patrol the area, as Rena’i Reef was part of the Spratlys, which belonged to China, as shown by its “nine-dash-line” map.

The map shows most of the West Philippine Sea, including parts near the shores of other countries in the region, as part of China’s territory.
The Philippines claims parts of the Spratlys, including Ayungin Shoal, and Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim other parts of the archipelago where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting on vast energy reserves.

According to Hernandez, the DFA continues to coordinate with the military on the course of action the Philippines should take in the face of yet another “provocative and illegal” Chinese deployment of vessels to parts of the sea within the country’s territory.

Support from Japan

Speaking before Southeast Asian top diplomats at a foreign policy forum in Tokyo last week, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he hoped China would act as a “responsible and positive force” amid the dispute.

Del Rosario called for a peaceful approach, instead of aggression, to settle disagreements in the region.

During his two-day visit to Tokyo, Del Rosario gained Japan’s support for the Philippine case against China in the United Nations arbitral tribunal.

Like the Philippines, Japan is disputing territory with China in the East China Sea.

Japan administers a group of islands in the sea that it calls the Senkakus, but referred to by China as the Diaoyus.

Japan followed the United States, Germany and the European Parliament in expressing support for the Philippines’ case against China, which Manila brought to the UN tribunal in January after exhausting all other means to resolve its territorial dispute with Beijing.

“The support of the international community for our arbitration initiative is a validation that we are on the right track in resolving the West Philippine Sea issue through a peaceful and rules-based approach,” Hernandez said.

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