It's quite natural: Chinese envoy defends ships near Pag-asa island

Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 05 2017 04:43 PM

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua talks to President Rodrigo Duterte at the Malacañan Palace on September 13, 2017. Karl Norman Alonzo, Malacañang Photo

MANILA - Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua downplayed Thursday the reported presence of Chinese ships near the Philippines' Pag-asa island, saying it is only "quite natural."

"It's quite natural for you to see some of the boats, fishing boats to be there. They are carrying their daily fishing. You don't have to be alarmed and both Chinese and the Filipino side have a clear understanding of what they are doing," Zhao said in an interview Thursday.

Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano earlier said he received information that Chinese ships were seen again in waters near Pag-asa and 3 nearby sandbars. 

Pag-asa (Thitu), the second largest island Spratly group of islands, and a high-tide elevation feature, is located about 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

Alejano said the sandbars lie within 12 nautical miles of both Subi Reef and Pag-asa island. However, the difference is that Subi Reef was once a low-tide elevation and was only later on reclaimed by China.

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Chinese ship is seen near Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

A Philippine fishing boat is seen "docked at the nearest of the unoccupied sandbars" along Pag-asa island. Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Following the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Subi Reef cannot generate territorial waters or a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) because it is a low-tide elevation feature. 

The Chinese ambassador said that as far as military ties are concerned, Beijing is enhancing respective relations with all the claimant states including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. 

"We're even exporting submarines, missiles to some of the claimant states. It demonstrate that China has no intention at all to settle it by force, otherwise we would not have given or sold weapons to claimant states," he said, noting that Beijing seeks a "peaceful solution" to the dispute.

Zhao also assured that China will not do anything to escalate tensions in the disputed waters in adherence to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana echoed Zhao's words, saying there is nothing wrong with the presence of Chinese ships near Pag-asa.

"In fact, one of our Navy ships was there before so it's natural. Like the ambassador said, that you can see a lot of ships there. It doesn't mean that the ships are doing illegal things or harassing other people..." he said.

Lorenzana also assured that there is no "violent conflict" between the Philippines and China and that both countries are adhering to DOC.

The Chinese envoy also urged to focus instead on bilateral ties between Manila and Beijing.

"Look at the bigger picture and focus on friendship and cooperation but in the meantime, we need to be sincere and to be candid in exchang[ing] views, in seeking a solution that is peaceful and that is acceptable to both sides," Zhao said.