PH threatens China with daily diplomatic protests over ships in West PH Sea

The Philippine government lambasted the Chinese embassy in Manila for its word war with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and warned it would file daily diplomatic protests against Beijing as long as its vessels remained in Philippine waters. 

In an official statement released on Monday, April 5, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised 8 points against the Chinese embassy after it entangled itself in a rare verbal battle with the Philippine defense secretary, who called out China for shunning international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Over the weekend, Lorenzana called on China to leave Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea because the weather is now clear – a statement the Chinese embassy denounced as “unprofessional.” 

The DFA rejected China’s statement, along with its assertion that Julian Felipe Reef and its waters were their “traditional fishing grounds,” once again raising the landmark 2016 Hague ruling that struck down China’s historical claims in the West Philippine Sea. 

It likewise demanded again that China “immediately withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the area and vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef and in the Philippines’ maritime zones.”

“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” the DFA warned, adding that China's continued deployment and lingering presence were a “blatant” infringement on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction. 

The DFA told reporters protests would be lodged from the date of its statement on Monday for as long as China’s ships continued to remain in Philippine waters. 

The DFA added that China’s tolerance of the ships’ presence in the West Philippine Sea likewise demonstrated a “lack of good faith” on Beijing’s part in ongoing negations on a code of conduct with Southeast Asian countries that seeks to provide stability in the South China Sea. 

“These are contrary to China’s commitments under international law and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and demonstrate lack of good faith in the ongoing negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between ASEAN and China,” it said.

'Guests of the Philippines'

On Monday, the DFA also slammed Chinese embassy officials for the embassy's statement on remarks made by Lorenzana.

The DFA called out China’s statement for containing falsehoods, including its repeated citing of “rough sea conditions” to justify the continued presence of its vessels in Philippine waters when weather was clear, as well as its insistence on the supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea. 

“The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly denounces the Embassy’s attempt to impugn the Secretary of National Defense – a Cabinet Official of the Republic of the Philippines – by calling his statement 'unprofessional'. Chinese Embassy officials are reminded that they are guests of the Philippine Government, and as guests must at all times observe protocol and accord respect to Philippine Government officials,” the DFA said. 

The Philippine government likewise rejected “blatant falsehoods” in China’s statement and raised several points in the landmark 2016 Hague ruling the country won against China. 

These included China’s assertion that Julian Felipe Reef and its waters are their “traditional fishing grounds.” To this, the DFA retorted: “Tradition yields to law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing.” 

“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – to which both the Republic of the Philippines and China are parties – and the final and binding July 12, 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration are clearly the only norm applicable to this situation,” it added. 

The DFA’s latest statement comes amid the Philippine government’s renewed push to publicly challenge Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that belongs to Filipinos. 

In recent days, the Philippine military had blasted China for illegal structures built on maritime features in Union Banks, a group of features within the Kalayaan Islands Group under the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan. Prior to that, on March 29, the Philippines had again called out China after over 200 of its ships were spread out across several reefs and features in Philippine waters. 

The scattering of its ships was documented after the Philippines demanded China withdraw over 200 of its vessels first spotted massed near Julian Felipe Reef in early March. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea had stood by its findings that the ships were manned by Beijing’s maritime militia as it appeared to show no signs of actual fishing and continued to linger in Philippine waters. 

The DFA asserted that Julian Felipe Reef, part of the Kalayaan Island Group and located 175 nautical miles west of Batarza, Palawan, belongs to the Philippines, being part of its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

 “It is located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza town in Palawan and 638.229 nautical miles from Hainan Island,” the DFA said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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