By Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
The Philippines’ foreign secretary on Monday ordered the filing of another diplomatic protest against China over the unauthorized passage of Chinese warships into the country’s territorial waters on two occasions since July.
The diplomatic protest is the fourth this year against China, a political ally of President Rodrigo Duterte who had earlier taken pains not to antagonize the Asian maritime powerhouse.
Duterte is preparing to make his visit to China this month to discuss the overlapping claims in the South China Sea, after political pressure from opposition politicians at home. But details of the upcoming trip however have not be released.
“Fire diplomatic protest over Chinese warship; drop the diplomatic crap; say it is ours period; they’re trespassing,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin posted on his Twitter page.
“If we did it already fire another. We won’t run out and don’t wait for formal intel,” he said.
The complaint was urged by the defense department, Locsin said. “Fire at will,” Locsin said.
The foreign office declined to elaborate on the order, and the Chinese Embassy in Manila, also did not respond to calls made by journalists.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including areas close to its neighbors. The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have territorial claims to the sea, which is vital to international shipping and trade.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last Friday voiced frustration over China’s repeated offenses after military officials reported that Chinese warships had passed through southern Philippine waters several times since June.
Lorenzana said he hoped that these intrusions would be discussed when Duterte meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping this month.
“I wanted to know where they came from. Where did they come from? Where are they going? Obviously, they are going back to China but the big question, why they passing through Sibutu Strait?” Lorenzana said.
“I think it’s not innocent [passage] anymore because they have done it often. Also, why don’t they inform us? Why the secrecy?” he said.
Philippine officials had earlier raised the issue of the passing Chinese ships with the Chinese Embassy in Manila, which had apologized for the first instance. It had also promised to inform Manila in advance of any passage, a statement that it had apparently ignored.
Last month, the Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese boats were seen swarming around territory occupied by the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.
The protest was based on confirmed reports about 113 Chinese vessels spotted near Pag-asa Island – which the Chinese call Thitu Island – on July 24 and 25.
Manila has occupied Pag-asa, located about 300 miles (483 km) west of Palawan province, since the 1970s. The government recently began long-delayed rehabilitation projects in the area, including the island’s airstrip and port facilities, with a plan to turn the area into a tourist attraction.
In July 2016, following a standoff between the navies of the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipino fishers, an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled in favor of Manila’s claim to the region. But instead of seeking to enforce the ruling, Duterte sought to appease Beijing and to repair bilateral ties.
Beijing has kept expanding its territories in the South China Sea, and recently installed missiles there that could hit the Philippines in minutes, according to the Philippine government.