China dismisses Philippine concerns over marine activities

Foreign ministry spokesman says vessels are research ships so have right of navigation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 9:34pm

China on Friday dismissed concerns from the Philippine defence minister over what he believed to be survey missions by its ships deep into the southeast Asian nation’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Amid a warming relationship, President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently praised China, but Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has remained openly suspicious, saying China has continued its fortification of man-made islands inside the Philippine EEZ.

Lorenzana said Chinese ships were monitored in recent months at locations near the Philippines, with a warship spotted just over 112km off its western coast in the South China Sea and survey ships seen to the north and south of its eastern seaboard.

He said satellite imagery provided by allies tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham Rise, a vast area the United Nations has declared to be part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.

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China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said its ships had every right of freedom of navigation in those waters, and its “research ships” did pass through seas northeast of Luzon Island last year.

“But this is purely carrying out normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage, and there were no so-called other activities or operations,” he said.

“Comments from individuals in the Philippines on this do not accord with the facts.”

To the northeast of Luzon is the western Pacific, where China increasingly carries out military drills.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in seaborne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the region.