Chinese vessel in Sulu Sea ‘shadowed’ PH-US naval exercise: Defense chief
Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News
Posted at Apr 05 2022 11:02 PM
MANILA – Contrary to Beijing’s claim of innocent passage, the presence of a Chinese ship in Philippine waters last Jan. 29 until Feb. 1 was meant to closely monitor the joint naval exercises of the Philippines and the United States at that time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
“Ang ginawa nitong barko na ‘to ay – mayroong kasi tayong exercise na nangyayari with the US force, US Navy – ay minamanmanan niya,” Lorenzana told reporters.
(What this ship did was to monitor our exercises with the US force, the US Navy.)
“In intel, that is following and watching… (The ship was) shadowing the RP-US naval exercise in the Sulu Sea which is an inland water of the Philippines,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said last month it summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian over the presence of a Chinese navy ship in the Sulu Sea without the government’s permission.
The People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) vessel reached Palawan’s Cuyo Group of Islands, and Apo Island in Mindoro, the DFA had said. It lingered despited being repeatedly directed by the Philippine Navy to leave immediately.
The militaries of the Philippines and the US were conducting the Marine Exercise (MAREX) 2022 at that time.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the sailing of their naval vessels through Philippine waters “was an exercise of the right of innocent passage pursuant to UNCLOS.”
While Lorenzana does not find the incident “really disturbing because the vessel did not do any dangerous thing”, he said the act of “shadowing the exercise… contradicts the Chinese claim of innocent passage.”
“Kung (If it was) innocent passage, it will not take it half a day to traverse Balabac Strait to northern Palawan,” the defense chief said.
He said that since those are internal waters as they are located between Palawan and Mindanao, any foreign ships monitoring Philippine assets are not allowed, thus the diplomatic protest against China.
“As a country that abides by its international commitments, the Philippines recognizes the right of innocent passage in accordance with Article 52 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the DFA had said.
“However, the actions of PLAN 792 did not constitute innocent passage and violated Philippine sovereignty,” it added.
China has aggressively asserted its claim over almost the entire South China Sea, even after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague declared it in 2016 as having no legal basis.
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