MANILA (UPDATED) - Recent developments in the South China Sea, including China’s deployment of bombers in the Paracel Islands, should not come as a surprise as Beijing has been aiming to boost its military presence in the disputed waters, Malacañang said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said this as he continued to defend the Philippines’ response to China’s deployment of bombers in the Paracels, which is also being claimed by Vietnam, as well as its installation of missiles in the Philippine-claimed Spratly Islands.
“Ang perspektibo ng Malacañang, wala pong bago dito. Lahat po ‘yan nangyari na, kaparte na po ‘yan ng kasaysayan. Bakit sila nag-reclaim? Gagamitin talaga nilang base militar iyon. So sa amin, hindi po bago ‘yan,” Roque said in a press briefing.
(From Malacañang’s perspective, this is not new. This is now part of history. Why did they reclaim? They will use those as military bases. So for us, it’s nothing new.)
Roque, nonetheless, said this does not mean that the Philippines is not doing anything to raise Manila’s concerns with Beijing, as critics urge the government to take a stronger stance on the matter. He said the Philippine government just does not want to publicize its actions.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), disputed Roque's statement.
"Except for these new developments over last year: 1st bomber deployments, 1st anti-ship, anti-missile, and jamming platforms in Spratlys, 1st maritime patrol aircraft deployments, increased naval and coast guard deployments, and 72 acres of new construction," Poling said in a tweet.
The AMTI, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, monitors the maritime environment in the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing on Monday hit back at allegations it was "militarizing" the South China Sea, instead accusing Washington of increasing tensions with its own military footprint.
China’s deployment of bombers to the South China Sea for the first time prompted immediate criticism from the United States, with a Pentagon spokesperson condemning China's "continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea".
But China was quick to dismiss concerns that the deployment had raised tensions in a region home to vital global shipping routes.
"The South China Sea islands are Chinese territories," foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular briefing.
Lu said the movement of the bombers into the area was "part of the normal training for the Chinese military," and that the US "sending its own warships and planes to the region... poses a danger to other countries."
Roque, echoing Duterte’s earlier statements, believes the South China Sea dispute is really about the rivalry between China and the United States.
“Sa perspektibo ng mga Tsino, gagamitin nila iyan para depensahan ang sarili nila kasi ang mga Amerikano naman nandiyan ang aircract carrier. Girian iyan ng dalawang bansa. Hindi tayo makikisali sa girian,” he said.
(From the perspective of the Chinese, they will use it to defend themselves because the Americans and their aircraft carriers are there. That’s a feud between two countries. We will not get involved in that feud.)
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has sought to downplay Manila's maritime dispute with Beijing in pursuit of improved ties with Asia's largest economy.
China has ignored the Philippines' victory in a landmark arbitration case, where an international court invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the waters in 2016.