MANILA - Malacañang on Friday aired concern over China’s reported deployment of missiles in the disputed South China Sea even as it downplayed its implications, citing the renewed friendship between Manila and Beijing.
“We are concerned with the reported China’s missile deployments over the contested areas in the West Philippine Sea,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Roque, however, said “[with] our recently developed close relationship and friendship with China, we are confident that those missiles are not directed at us."
"Be that as it may, we would explore all diplomatic means to address this issue,” he said.
The Chinese army installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on outposts also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines over the last 30 days, American television network CNBC reported Wednesday, citing sources close to United States intelligence.
The new Chinese missiles were reportedly deployed on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, according to CNBC.
They are all in the Spratly archipelago located in waters south of mainland China between Vietnam and the Philippines.
At a regular briefing on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying neither confirmed nor denied the deployment.
"China's peaceful construction in the Spratly archipelago, including the deployment of necessary national defense facilities, is aimed at protecting China's sovereignty and security," she said.
"Those who don't intend to violate (this sovereignty) have no reason to worry," she said.
The South China Sea issue has been brewing for years, with China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan making competing claims in waters with vital global shipping routes and what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.
In addition to land reclamation efforts on reefs it controls and building civilian facilities there, China also has air bases, radar and communications systems, naval facilities and defensive weaponry in place including landing strips able to accommodate military planes.
Beijing's territorial claims, based on its own historical records, have also pitted it against the US.
While Washington takes no position on the sovereignty claims, it has raised concerns that Beijing is "militarizing" the South China Sea.
But the US Navy itself frequently sends warships and aircraft carriers to patrol the area.
The White House also warned Thursday that China would face "consequences" for its military buildup in contested waters in the western Pacific.
"We're well aware of China's militarization of the South China Sea," said press secretary Sarah Sanders.
"We've raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this and there will be near-term and long-term consequences."
Sanders did not say what the consequences would be.
- with Agence France-Presse