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China in Disputed Waters, Worries Philippines

National

Senator Francis N. Tolentino | Image by Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB

The Republic of the Philippines Department of National Defense reported Chinese vessels off that country’s shores last week, and Filipino senators took notice.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino presented a video to the Senate allegedly showing Philippine personnel in November hauling a piece of rocket debris when a Chinese warship obstructed them and cut the line, taking the piece of debris.

Tolentino says Chinese officials deny the incident occurred, but he argues that the video footage is clear, GMA News reported.

According to China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, the object was debris from the payload fairing — a protective nose cone — of a rocket launched by China, Reuters reported.

People from the Philippines side of the incident retrieved and towed the floating object first, she claimed. The Philippines returned the floating object after a cordial exchange at the scene, according to Mao.

“It was not a situation in which we waylaid and grabbed the object,” Mao said, according to Reuters.

Senior Undersecretary of the Department of National Defense Jose C. Faustino Jr. released a statement regarding the department’s concerns about the “swarming of Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.”

“The President’s directive to the Department is clear,” Faustino claims in the statement. “We will not give up a single square inch of Philippine territory.”

“We continue to conduct routine maritime and aerial patrols in the WPS,” the statement goes on. “Information gathered in these patrols are submitted to relevant authorities for appropriate action.”

Faustino said the country remains open to dialogue with China, but “activities which violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and undermine the peace and stability of the region, are unacceptable.”

Naval tensions between China and the Philippines have drawn global notice.

“The United States and the broader international community have a profound stake in the future of this region,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said on a diplomatic trip to the islands in November. “America’s prosperity relies on the billions of dollars that flow through these waters every day. And we are proud to work with you in your mission.”

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, found in favor of the Philippines’ petition against China in 2016, invalidating Beijing’s claims to practically the entire South China Sea, according to the Philippine government.

The recent news of Chinese vessels in Filipino waters comes weeks before Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to make his first trip to China at the beginning of January, according to the Philippine government.

Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in 2023.

Senators said they will pass a resolution stating the position of the Senate before Marcos visits Beijing, GMA News reported.

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