Tuesday, May 28, 2024

China in WPS not an issue if law followed, says PH general

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There would be no problem with China’s presence during the Philippine-US maritime exercise in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as long as international law is observed, a Balikatan exercise director said on Monday.

“As to that report, I cannot confirm or deny it. But surely, I would say that we would expect some presence of the Chinese side also because they have built their structures in these areas,” PH exercise director Major General Marvin Licudine said in a press conference.

“We always adhere to international law and the freedom of navigation in these seas. So I think we would not see any problem as long as we follow international law and our mutually agreed cooperative mechanisms,” he added.

The Philippines and the US on Monday officially started their annual joint military exercise or Balikatan for this year, which includes its first multilateral maritime exercise.

A day before the Balikatan, former US Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché Ray Powell said on X (formerly Twitter) that two maritime militia ships left China’s military base at Mischief Reef, stayed near Second Thomas Shoal for six hours.

The Chinese vessels moved within 30 nautical miles away from the coastline of Palawan.

“China’s militia ships have turned back in the direction of Mischief Reef after loitering just outside the Philippines’ 24 nautical miles contiguous zone,” Powell said.

“Very odd behavior. Perhaps intended to send a message at the beginning of the PH-US Balikatan exercise?” he added.

As part of this year’s Balikatan, the navies of the Philippines, US,  and France will conduct their first Multilateral Maritime Exercise from April 25 to May 4.

Participating vessels will be originating from Palawan and will be sailing within the bounds of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Tensions between China and the Philippines have heightened in recent months as both sides traded accusations over a series of incidents in the disputed waters.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

A portion of the South China Sea within the Philippine EEZ has been renamed the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.—RF, GMA Integrated News

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