MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is adopting a wait and see approach amid reports that China will soon deploy seaplanes to further strengthen its maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys.
Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, spokesman for the military and commander of the AFP Civil Relations Service, said they have yet to ascertain the real purpose behind China’s continuing aggressive moves in the region.
“We will wait and see before coming up with an official stand,” Kakilala said when asked to comment on reports published by China Daily Mail that China would be deploying “ground effect vehicles” to its occupied territories in the Spratlys.
A defense official, who asked not to be named, said that as a sovereign state, the country reserves the right to enforce its maritime laws within the 200-nautical Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Vessels or aircraft intruding into the country’s EEZ, which includes the Kalayaan Island Group, are subject to Philippine laws and rules,” the defense official said.
A senior security official said that if China pushes through with its aggressive behavior, the Philippines would launch massive infrastructure developments in its territories in the region.
The Philippines is holding off development projects in the region in line with the Code of Conduct signed by all claimant-countries, including China.
“If they will do that, there will be no reason for the Philippines not to start developing the municipality of Kalayaan in Pag-Asa Island and its surrounding territories to make it a sustainable community. We will build hospitals, ports and field offices of government agencies there,” the official said.
China Daily Mail reported that two Chinese seaplanes are undergoing test flights in the coastal waters of Hainan. These seaplanes will serve as a means of transportation between China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea and Hainan.
China rejects Phl’s armed robbery claim
Beijing on Friday dismissed an accusation by Manila that the Chinese coast guard robbed Filipino fishermen at gunpoint during a confrontation in the disputed South China Sea, calling the claim “inconsistent with the fact.”
The rebuttal came a day after the Philippine fisheries bureau said that fishermen on three vessels with clear Chinese coast guard markings boarded two fishing boats in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal earlier this month and took the crew’s catch.
“What we have learned shows that accusations made by the Philippine side are inconsistent with the fact,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
Using the Chinese name for the disputed area, Hong maintained that Chinese vessels “perform guard duties and keep order in waters off the Huangyan Island in accordance with the law.”
He urged Manila to “discipline and educate its fishermen and put an end to its illegal activities.”
Panatag Shoal lies 220 kilometers (about 140 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon, and is 650 kilometers (408 miles) from Hainan Island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
In the confrontation earlier this month, the Filipino fishermen “were threatened and pointed with a gun before the Chinese forcibly took their catch,” according to an incident report from the bureau sent to AFP.
The gunmen also destroyed the Filipinos’ fishing equipment, the report said.
A week later three Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannon on a Philippine fishing boat, injuring at least three crewmen and destroying the ship’s glass windows, according to a separate report from the bureau.
The Philippines has said it will file a diplomatic protest over the incidents. – With AFP
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