Philippines takes ‘diplomatic action’ after Chinese bombers land at South China Sea island base 

China landed long-range bombers on one of its occupied islands for the first time in its latest military action in the disputed seas, setting off international concern

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 1:53pm

The Philippines expressed “serious concerns” over the presence of China’s strategic bombers in the disputed South China Sea and its foreign ministry has taken “appropriate diplomatic action”, the spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday.

China’s air force said bombers such as the H-6K had landed and taken off from islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of training exercises last week, drawing angry reactions from opposition lawmakers in Manila. The United States also sent ships to the disputed areas.

The Philippines could not independently verify the presence of Chinese bombers in the South China Sea, said presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

“But, we take note of the reports that appeared and we express our serious concerns anew on its impact to efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” Roque told a regular media briefing at the presidential palace.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines said it was monitoring developments.

“We are taking the appropriate diplomatic action necessary to protect our claims and will continue to do so in the future,” it said in a statement.

“We reiterate our commitment to protect every single inch of our territory and areas which we have sovereign rights over.”

However, the foreign ministry stopped short of condemning China’s action after Durterte conceded the Philippines was powerless to stop Beijing’s militarisation of South China Sea.

“What will we arm ourselves with if there’s a war?” he said according to a transcript released by his office on Sunday.

“Will we resort to slapping each other? I couldn’t even buy myself a rifle. It was given to me. So how will we even fight with the Chinese?”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about US$3 trillion worth of seaborne goods passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area.

China has built seven artificial islands in the Spratlys group in the South China Sea and turned them into military outposts with airfields, radars, and missile defences.

Beijing says its military facilities in the Spratlys are purely defensive and that it can do what it likes on its own territory.

Filipino lawmakers have criticised Duterte for not confronting China in preference for attempts to win Beijing’s friendship, despite a favourable ruling Manila received over the disputed waterway from an arbitration court in The Hague in 2016.

Duterte has said he would not risk a confrontation with China and has reiterated his openness to undertaking joint exploration and development in waters believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. 

Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Associated Press