Chinese survey ship entered PH waters 'to escape bad weather'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24)— China informed the Department of Foreign Affairs that its survey ship reentered Philippine waters this week due to bad weather, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday.

Lorenzana said this proves his earlier theory that Chinese survey ship Zhang Jian was avoiding big waves, that's why it was spotted again in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where the country has sovereign rights.

"As I said during my interview yesterday baka... umiiwas sa malalaking alon (it may be avoiding big waves)," Lorenzana told CNN Philippines in a text message.

"And I was right because shortly thereafter I got this message from the DFA: The Chinese embassy informed the DFA that the survey ship came into our territorial waters to escape bad weather. Later when the weather improve[d] it left for mainland China," he added.

Ryan Martinson, assistant professor of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, monitored Zhang Jian's return to the Philippines' EEZ on Wednesday. It was last spotted near Legazpi, Albay on Thursday.

Zhang Jian's presence was reported just a day after President Rodrigo Duterte warned foreign vessels that they need to obtain proper clearance to pass through the country’s territorial waters — or else they will be asked to leave.

Malacañang stood by this directive even as Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out that the foreign vessels' right of innocent passage is enshrined in international maritime law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the Philippines had signed.

Zhang Jian was first monitored in the country's EEZ on August 3. Between August 5 and 6, it came as close as 75 nautical miles from Siargao island, well within the country's 200-nautical mile EEZ. Martinson and Gregory Poling, director of U.S.-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, both suspected the ship was doing scientific research at that time.

Aside from the Zhang Jian, the Chinese survey ship Dong Fang Hong 3 was also spotted near Ilocos Norte on August 7. A number of Chinese warships also transited Sibutu Strait, an internationally-recognized shipping lane south of Tawi-Tawi, from February to August. Four Chinese Navy ships transited Balabac Strait in Palawan in June, ignoring radio warnings.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin said diplomatic protests have been "fired off" for these incidents.