MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines on Thursday said the presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the disputed South China Sea is “illegal” as it asserted jurisdiction over the area.
In a rare strongly-worded statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines has “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over Manila-held Pag-asa Island, home to Kalayaan town under the province of Palawan.
“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),” it said.
The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier confirmed the presence of a large number of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island, the second largest naturally occurring island in the disputed sea, noting that these were near the Philippine island and were almost stationary.
Over 600 Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island since January this year, the military said.
On Feb. 10, the military recorded the highest number of Chinese vessels circling the island at 87. It was also on this day that the military brought construction equipment to the island for the repair of a runway ramp expected to be finished by July this year.
This, the DFA, said “is commonly referred to as ‘swarming’ tactics – raising questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives.”
It said that if China does nothing about the incident, it is deemed to have endorsed and in effect adopted the act and “will thus continue to be the subject of appropriate action by the Philippines.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday said Manila has already filed a diplomatic protest on the incursions. He did not provide more details.
“For the record, the Philippines has consistently manifested its position on the Pag-asa Islands and on the KIG (Kalayaan Island Group), and its objections or concerns over illegal, tension-raising or coercive activities, through diplomatic actions, including notes verbale and in meetings with the Chinese side, including the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM),” the DFA said.
It continued: “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.”
DISCUSSION WITH CHINA
In a separate statement, the DFA said it raised with China “recent developments and actions” in the disputed territory “in a frank yet cordial and constructive manner” during the two nations’ recently-concluded fourth meeting of the BCM.
Held on April 2 and 3 in Manila, the Philippine delegation was led by Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Meynardo LB. Montealegre of the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs, while the Chinese delegation was led by Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou.
The two sides “proposed ways to address them in a cooperative manner," the statement said.
"Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate and to continue to find ways forward to strengthen mutual trust and confidence,” the DFA said.
Apart from this, the foreign office said the delegations exchanged views on oil and gas development, noting that the South China Sea issues “are not the sum total of the Philippines-China relations and should not exclude mutually beneficial cooperation in other fields.”
“Both sides had a productive exchange of views on ways to enhance maritime cooperation in areas such as on recent developments in the South China Sea carrying political and security implications, maritime search and rescue, maritime safety, marine environmental protection/marine scientific research, and fisheries in relevant Working Group meetings under the framework of the BCM.”
China has ramped up island building and militarization activities in the South China Sea, shunning a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal that invalidated its nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the waters.
President Rodrigo Duterte has set aside the ruling in pursuit of closer trade ties with China. The Philippine government, however, has said it continued to take diplomatic actions over Chinese incursions in the disputed waters even amid warming relations between Manila and Beijing.