Military expert: Chinese plane that landed in PH was here to probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) — The Chinese plane that refuelled in Davao City was here to probe the Philippines, a military historian warned on Tuesday.

Security expert Jose Custodio told CNN Philippines' The Source that it was a way for the eastern giant to "see how our reactions would be."

"They could have refuelled in those artificial islands they constructed in the seas they stole from us... But they chose to do it in Davao," he said. "Basically, they're probing us."

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced on Sunday that a Chinese aircraft made a technical stop in Davao on June 8. He maintained that the plane, bound for Cairns, Australia, followed "established procedures."

However, Armed Forces Public (AFP) Affairs Office Chief Col. Edgar Arevalo said he did not have sufficient information about the aircraft except that it had stopped for refuelling.

Nonetheless, he said that it was a "perfectly legal reason to land... with appropriate permissions, of course, from appropriate government agencies."

Custodio believes that China did not obtain the necessary permissions. He pointed out that the plane bore Chinese military insignia.

"So that has to pass through an even higher level — [the Department of Defense], AFP," he said.

Custodio's concern comes amid criticism of the Philippine government's response to fishermen's catch being taken by the Chinese Coast Guard in disputed waters.

Both governments stopped short of calling the incident harassment, although Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua has since promised that the men involved would be disciplined.

Administration critics and maritime experts have been urging President Rodrigo Duterte's government to take a firmer stance, possibly through diplomatic protests, against China's occupation and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

However, Duterte has maintained that the country "cannot afford to go to war" with the eastern giant. He has kept warm relations with Beijing, which has pledged billions in investments to the Philippines.

In line with Independence Day, Custodio quipped that Philippine independence was "[at] a crossroads."

"It can choose the path to defend its interests, defend the sacrifice of our forefathers who fought for freedom, or it can go this path and become a vassal state of China," said Custodio.

"The thing with China is it knows it has its foot in... so it's going to bring its entire body in already," he added. "That's something we have to watch out [for]."