China: No need to over-interpret presence of bombers in South China Sea

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A July 2016 file photo shows a Chinese H-6K bomber patrolling islands and reefs, including Huangyan Island in the South China Sea.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — Beijing on Monday downplayed the take-off and landing of their nuclear-capable bombers on an island in the South China Sea, adding that concerned countries need not over-interpret their presence.

"The South China Sea Islands are China's territory. The relevant military activities are the normal training of the Chinese military and there is no need for other parties to over-interpret that," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said in his regular press conference on Monday.

The presence of the bomber planes in Woody Island — an island to which China, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims — prompted the Philippines to bring up the issue in the next bilateral consultative mechanism (BCM) with China.

An American think-tank said on Friday the bombers could affect a radius of more than 1,000 nautical miles, where the Philippines is within range.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said China's ownership of Woody Island does not concern the Philippines, which is not a claimant.

"Posisyon po nila 'yan. Pero tayo po, meron po tayong arbitral decision [That's their position. But we have an arbitral decision.]," Roque said. "What we said, is that what is ours, is ours."

Roque explained that the Philippines would continue to observe the ruling issued the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016, which invalidates China's nine-dash line claims over most of the South China Sea.

"The arbitral tribunal has evidence that (China) has built on waters which form part of our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), and only the Philippines has sovereign rights to construct those islands," he pointed out.

However, the spokesman maintained that the so-called militarization of the South China Sea poses no threat to the country — despite calls from lawmakers for a stronger stance on the issue.

Roque, however, maintained the so-called militarization of the South China Sea poses no threat — despite calls for a stronger stance on the issue from lawmakers on Sunday.

READ: Senator seeks PH action on China's threat of 'nuclear war'

Another tiff in the South China Sea?

Lu also called out the Pentagon's earlier claims of militarizing the disputed waters.

"As to the so-called "militarization" mentioned by the U.S., it is totally a different thing from certain country's threat to others by sending military vessels and aircraft to this region from thousands of miles away," Lu said.

In a report from CNN, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said China's continued militarization of South China Sea's features "only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region."

But the United States also flew bombers in the South China Sea in April, as part of their country's Air Force training missions. In March, a U.S. destroyer sailed close to Mischief Reef — a feature in the Spratly Islands subject to overlapping sea claims between Philippines and China.

In both instances, the Eastern giant called out its Western counterpart for supposed breach of sovereignty.

Reports earlier said China has built military structures in islands in the Paracel chain and the Spratly group. Other claimant countries and regional blocs such as the Association of Southeast Asia Nations have repeatedly expressed concern over Chinese activity in the waters, despite an unresolved sea row.