China, Philippines spar over military visit to island

Al Jaazeera

China voices displeasure after high-profile Philippine military brass visit disputed island in the South China Sea.

Troops march as a plane carrying Philippine military brass arrives on Pag-asa island [Bullit Marquez/AP]

China has protested about a visit by Philippine military chiefs to a disputed island in the South China Sea, but Manila maintained on Saturday that it owns the territory where Filipino troops and villagers have lived for decades.

The public argument comes amid a thaw in once-frosty relations between the neighbours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June and moved to rekindle Manila’s friendship with Beijing, which has been strained by long-seething territorial disputes.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military Chief of Staff General Eduardo Ano flew to the island, which Filipinos call Pag-asa, with dozens of journalists on Friday to inspect an eroded airstrip.

The Philippine government plans to reinforce and lengthen the facility and build a dock starting next month to accommodate ships with construction materials, Lorenzana said.

OPINION: Why China cares about the South China Sea

About $32m has been earmarked for the construction, including a fish port, solar power, water desalination plant, improved housing for soldiers and facilities for marine research and tourists.

Accompanied by military top brass, Lorenzana and Ano also met Filipino troops and villagers and took part in a flag-raising ceremony on Pag-asa, which is internationally known as Thitu and is called Zhongye Dao by China. It’s the second-largest island in the South China Sea’s hotly contested Spratlys archipelago.

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In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang expressed China’s displeasure over the high-profile Philippine visits to the island, saying Beijing was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” by the island visits, adding that  it “has lodged representations with the Philippine side”.

“We hope that the Philippine side could cherish the hard-won sound momentum of development the bilateral relations are experiencing, faithfully follow the consensus reached between the two leaderships, maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Lu said.

The Philippine government replied by saying that the island was part of an island municipality under its western province of Palawan, which faces the disputed waters.

“Our visits there are part of the government mandate to ensure the safety, wellbeing, livelihood and personal security of our citizens there,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said in a statement.

During the trip to Pag-asa, Chinese forces tried to drive away two Philippine air force planes that carried Lorenzana, Ano and others as they flew near a Chinese man-made island called Subi, just 25km away.

South China Sea: Weapons systems installed on islands

Lorenzana said that their aircraft continued uninterrupted without any incident after Filipino pilots messaged back to the Chinese that they were flying over Philippine territory. The Chinese warned the Philippine aircraft that they were entering the periphery of Chinese installations and told to avoid miscalculation.

The Chinese navy has similarly warned US ships and aircraft to leave what Beijing claims as its territory, messages the Americans also ignored.

China claims virtually the entire sea and has aggressively tried to fortify its foothold by transforming in recent years seven mostly submerged reefs into island outposts, including Subi.

Three of the artificial islands were built with runways, along with buildings, towers, radars and more recently weapons systems, to the consternation of other Asian claimant governments and the United States, which insists on freedom of navigation in international waters.

Source: AP news agency

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This entry was posted in Biển Đông (SCS), China - Philippines relationship and tagged , , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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