DFA: Presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa "illegal"
The presence of Chinese vessels near the Pag-asa Islands in Palawan province is "illegal" and "a clear violation" of the Philippine sovereignty, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.
In a strongly worded statement, the DFA questioned the intent of the Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa and other maritime features in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is being claimed by the Philippines.
"The Pag-asa Islands are part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction," it said.
"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), the foreign affairs department said.
It noted the presence of large number and for "sustained and recurring periods - what is commonly referred to as 'swarming' tactics'" of Chinese vessels in the area.
This raises questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives, it added.
"Such actions when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it," DFA said.
The department said whether the Chinese vessels were military, fishing or other ships within the KIG, they would remain as the subject of "appropriate action" by the Philippines.
It noted the Philippines has consistently manifested its position on the Pag-asa Islands and on the KIG, and its objections or concerns over illegal, tension-raising or coercive activities, through diplomatic actions, including notes verbales and in meetings with the Chinese side, including the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).
The DFA also urged China and other 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."
Manila also called for the full and effective implementation of the DOC while talks for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea have been ongoing.
"We cannot emphasize enough the imperative to build and promote mutual trust and confidence, to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities; and to avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and undermine peace, security and stability in the region," DFA said.
"The Joint Statement issued by the Philippines and China on the occasion of last year’s State Visit of President Xi Jinping to the Philippines includes an agreement by both sides to exercise self-restraint with respect to activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. We call on the Chinese government to adhere to this consensus reached at the highest levels, down to its agencies and its military," it added.
China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea, including those within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of other countries, like the Philippines.
Pag-asa Islands are part of the Kalayaan Municipality in Palawan. Celerina Monte/DMS