Manila has voiced alarm over a military report that at least five Chinese warships have been spotted passing through a strait in the southern Philippines in separate incidents since July.
“We express concern with that kind of incident because they [China]) keep on saying that we’re friends. I don’t think that this is an act of friendship,” said Salvador Panelo, spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Panelo called the incident a violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea given that the Chinese warships “passed through our exclusive economic zone.”
“I’m sure the Department of Foreign Affairs secretary [Teodoro Locsin Jr.] will do something about that”, Panelo said, pledging to “call their [China’s] attention” and discuss the matter during his meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Manila scheduled for “one of these days.”
Earlier, Panelo emphasised that the Philippines had “never shelved” the UN arbitral tribunal’s decision that rejected Beijing’s nine-dash line territorial claims in the South China Sea. He described the decision as “irreversible,” but noted that at the moment, the ruling can’t be enforced.
“It only remains unenforceable because no foreign force seems persuaded to help us enforce it, and neither do we have the capability of enforcing it alone by force […] armed acts of enforcement could only trigger a bloody war that could cost the lives of our countrymen and destruction of properties in our land,” he said.
Earlier, President Duterte admitted that Beijing controls most of the South China Sea, urging every state, including those outside the region, to avoid creating tensions with Beijing. At the same time, he later warned China against aggressive actions against Pag-asa, also known as Thitu Island, Manila-controlled territory in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
A UN arbitration against Beijing’s territorial claim on the “nine-dash line” covering most of the South China Sea was initiated by the Philippines back in 2013. Beijing refused to acknowledge the tribunal's decision and refused to withdraw its forces from the region after the final ruling stated that China had no historic rights to claim "nine-dash line" territory.
Apart from China, the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are among the more frequently disputed territories, are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. China has exerted de facto control over the Paracels since 1974.
Despite having no claims to the territories, the US is also actively engaged in the dispute, sending its military vessels to the South China Sea to fulfil “freedom of navigation” missions. These spark harsh criticism from Beijing which describes such acts as “provocations.”