DFA ‘firing off’ diplomatic protest over presence of Chinese vessels in PH waters

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 9) — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is protesting the reported presence of Chinese survey vessels and warships in Philippine waters.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. said Friday on Twitter that the DFA is “firing off” a diplomatic protest.

Locsin said this in response to a TV interview where Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana questioned what Chinese vessels are doing in Philippine waters.

Lorenzana has said that four Chinese warships have sailed along Sibutu Strait since February without informing the country. Sibutu Strait is an internationally-recognized shipping lane south of Tawi-Tawi.

The Defense chief previously told CNN Philippines that it seems that the Chinese warships deliberately tried to avoid being detected as they turned off their automatic identification systems (AISs), even if the International Maritime Organization requires ships of at least 300 gross tonnage to keep this on at all times. AISs send information about ships to other vessles and to coastal authorities.

Four more Chinese Navy ships sailed through Philippine waters near Palawan and ignored local authorities' radio warnings in June, the military said. Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Admiral Rene Medina said they have recommended that the DFA files a diplomatic protest on this incident.

Ryan Martinson, assistant professor of the China Maritime Studies Insitute at the US Naval War College, also reported that two Chinese survey ships have sailed this week within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area where Filipinos have sovereign rights to explore and exploit natural resources.

Martinson said Zhang Jian, one of the Chinese survey ships which was said to be operating as close as 75 nautical miles from Siargao, was doing scientific research. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China can only conduct marine scientific research in the Philippines' EEZ and continental shelf if it gives the Asian giant permission.

Locsin earlier said he would need to get more information from the military about the supposed operation of Zhang Jian which was spotted well within the country's 200-nautical mile EEZ.

The Philippines filed last week a diplomatic protest with Beijing on the swarming of more than a hundred Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island. The passage of Chinese warships through Sibutu Strait was also included in the protest, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

It is unclear whether this protest also included the sailing of four Chinese Navy ships through Balabac Strait near Palawan.

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producers Eimor Santos and Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.