MANILA, Philippines – Five more Chinese warships were recently spotted venturing into the country’s southernmost territorial waters, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (AFP Westmincom).
Coastal patrols monitored the passage of 2 Chinese naval vessels in July and 3 this month, said Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, AFP Westmincom Commander, on Wednesday, August 14.
The warships were seen passing through Sibutu Strait, considered an international sea lane where foreign ships have the right of innocent passage. However, customary maritime law requires warships to notify the government of the coastal state beforehand.
“Since these are warships, their entry to our territory should be coordinated [with Philippine authorities],” Sobejana said in an interview provided to reporters.
Besides, the 5 Chinese warships’ passage cannot be considered “innocent” because they were on a curved course, Sobejana said.
“Hindi naman sila hostile. Ang ano lang ‘dun, it was not an innocent passage kasi ang innocent passage, straight line lang ‘yun. ‘Pag nagkurba ka, that is no longer considered innocent passage,” Sobejana said.
(They were not hostile. But the thing is, it was not an innocent passage because innocent passage should be in a straight line. Once you curve, that is no longer considered innocent passage.)
The Chinese warships immediately changed course and exited Philippine territorial waters after Philippine naval aircraft and other assets came within their view, Sobejana added.
Below are photos of the vessels, released by the AFP-Westmincom:
On July 25, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military reported 4 instances of Chinese naval vessels traversing the Sibutu Strait in the waters of Tawi-Tawi province since February.
On August 6, the AFP Western Command (Wescom) said 4 Chinese warships passed through the waters near Balabac Island in Palawan province on June 17 without permission, and virtually ignored radio communications from Philippine patrols.
The reported passage of the 3 Chinese warships in August came after Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua supposedly said he would tell the Chinese Navy to give notice before having their warships enter Philippine waters.
Lorenzana said Zhao made the commitment on July 22, the day of President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
On July 31, AFP spoksperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo said there was “duplicity” in the passage early this year of the first 4 reported Chinese warships because their automatic identification systems must have been deliberately turned off to avoid detection by radar.
Arevalo called it a “deception.”
Lorenzana has questioned the presence of Chinese naval and survey vessels in Philippine seas.
Sobejana said the Westmincom has informed the national leadership about the latest 5 Chinese warships they spotted so that “they can engage with their counterparts in the Department of Foreign Affairs or with their attachés in Manila.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently said it filed diplomatic protests against the presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, and of two Chinese survey vessels in different parts of the country.
It is unclear whether the DFA has officially protested the clandestine passages of Chinese warships through Philippine territorial waters. – Rappler.com
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