AFP: Chinese research ships seen near Vigan, Mindoro

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2017 01:07 AM

China expanding in South China Sea; seen in PH Sea 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday revealed that China has continued its expansion activities in the disputed South China Sea, with its vessels spotted even in the Philippine sea.

In the report given by the AFP before the House Committee on National Defense, it listed China as one of the security threats faced by the Philippines.

Major General Felimon Santos Jr., AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, described China's presence in the South China Sea and Philippine Sea as "intensifying."

"Aside from China's continued land reclamation and construction operations in its seven reclaimed features, Beijing is intensifying the deployment of its maritime assets in the South China Sea and even in the Philippine Sea," Santos said.

The AFP presented slides showing the most recent locations of Chinese research vessels in waters within or close to the Philippines.

Xiang Yang Hong 03 reportedly stayed for nine days northwest of Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, while Xiang Yang Hong 06 stayed for 19 days until finally being monitored 226 nautical miles northeast of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

One more Chinese vessel was spotted inside the waters of Mindoro, but it seemed to be tailing another warship from another nation.

"Reports received show that another Chinese vessel, Jiangkai, with bow number 525, has been monitored within the Philippine territorial waters, particularly in the vicinity of the Mindoro Strait on April 23, 2017. The ship is believed to be shadowing the US Navy ship USS Stethem, which is conducting routine operations in the area," Santos said.

Chinese fishing vessels have also been increasing in number, said the AFP in two places, Scarborough Shoal in Zambales and Subi Reef, one of China's seven manmade islands and the one near the Philippines' Pag-asa Island.

The AFP is not discounting the possibility that these fishing vessels may have a purpose for being there.

"The intensified presence of Chinese fishing vessels in Zamora (Subi) could be Beijing's way of obstructing the Philippines' modernization plans in Pag-asa Island," Santos said.

"On the reported increase of Chinese fishing vessels in Bajo de Masinloc, it cannot be ruled out that these could be related to the possible construction of structures in the area, which could mark an initial step towards establishing a more permanent presence thereat," he added.

The AFP told the committee that China has no plans of backing down in its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"By all indications, China is undertaking all necessary moves toward attaining full dominance in the South China Sea," Santos said.

Carpio rejects PH-China military pact

For Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, these are reasons why he disagrees with the Philippine government's proposal to forge a visiting forces agreement with China, which will pave way for joint military exercises.

"We have a dispute with China, but we can go on trading with China... but of course there are other matters that we cannot do, like we cannot have a visiting forces agreement with them while they are claiming our territories," he said.

"It's difficult to have a VFA with a country that's claiming your territory and your maritime zones. I mean, how can you have a military, naval exercises in the West Philippine Sea, if you're doing it with a country that's claiming the West Philippine Sea? I mean, for me, it's common sense," Carpio added.

In the midst of all this, experts agree that it is the correct approach to keep talking to China so that the Philippines may better comprehend China's intentions, and that China may understand the Philippines' convictions as well.