Philippines says Chinese ships near Pag-asa Island 'illegal'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Thursday, April 4, rejected as "illegal" the presence of Chinese vessels near the disputed Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"Such actions when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it," said the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a statement on Thursday.

The DFA explained that Pag-asa Island belongs to the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), "which is an integral part of the Philippines."

"Accordingly, the presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa and other maritime features in the KIG is illegal. Such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, as defined under international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," said the DFA.

"Moreover, it has been observed that Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods – what is commonly referred to as 'swarming' tactics – raising questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives," the DFA added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has said more than 600 Chinese ships have circled Pag-asa Island since January, according to ABS-CBN News.

This corroborates an earlier report by the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that China deployed Chinese militia to the vicinity of Pag-asa Island after the Philippines began constructing there.

The DFA said the presence of Chinese vessels within the Kalayaan Island Group, "whether military, fishing, or other vessels," will "continue to be the subject of appropriate action by the Philippines."

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr had said on Tuesday, April 2, that he "fired off a salvo of diplomatic notes against China" in reaction to the Chinese vessels. He declined to publicize details, other than that he sent these diplomatic notes before his official trip to China from March 18 to 21. 

"For the record, the Philippines has consistently manifested its position on the Pag-asa Island and on the KIG, and its objections or concerns over illegal, tension-raising or coercive activities, through diplomatic actions, including notes verbales and in meetings with the Chinese side, including the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM)," said the DFA.

"We call on concerned parties to desist from any action and activity that contravenes the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), as these generate tension, mistrust and uncertainty, and threatens regional peace and stability," it added.

The DFA added that while countries negotiate a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the Philippines "calls for the full and effective implementation of the DOC."

"We cannot emphasize enough the imperative to build and promote mutual trust and confidence; to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities; and to avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and undermine peace, security, and stability in the region," said the DFA. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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