PH now on China's side in seeking revision of UNCLOS – Locsin

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 4) — China has agreed to ask for permission to pass through Philippine waters, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin said Wednesday.

This means the Philippines and China are now on the same side in seeking a revision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty that guarantees the right of innocent passage, Locsin said.

During a briefing of the proposed 2020 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Locsin revealed China's response to Malacañang's earlier pronouncement that foreign vessels should "get clearance" before their actual passage in local waters.

"When Chinese warships were seen in the West Philippine Sea, the President said 'I will not allow that,' and he said he will demand permission before that happens. And to our surprise, China's answer was: that's exactly what we want, we want to ask for permission," Locsin told the House Committee on Appropriations.

The government had filed diplomatic protests with China over the presence of Chinese warships and survey vessels in the country's waters which did not notify local authorities. The latest was Chinese survey ship Zhang Jian, which was spotted east of the country in August. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Chinese government had informed the DFA that its survey vessel "came into our territorial waters to escape bad weather."

Lorenzana said this was also raised by President Rodrigo Duterte in his bilateral meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week. But Xi replied, international law does not require ships to seek permission in passing through the territorial waters of another country.

Locsin said it is really not required of China to seek permission, since the right of innocent passage is enshrined the UNCLOS. But he said both countries agreed this should be done to maintain their friendship.

"By insisting on asking for permission, and I admire him (Duterte) for this, but by China saying 'yes, we will ask for permission,' we are now on the side of China in the revision of UNCLOS, which is now asking for permission. China has always wanted that, so now we find ourselves on their side," Locsin said.

The Philippines and China signed the UNCLOS in 1982 and 1994, respectively.

This international treaty is the basis for the arbitral ruling's recognition of the Philippines' sovereign rights to some areas within the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea that China is claiming. Beijing rejects the 2016 decision and insists on its sweeping claim to almost the entire global waterway. It built artificial islands, blocked Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in petroleum exploration in areas the Philippines occuppies and claims as part of the West Philippine Sea.

READ: 'Complete lie': Locsin says Duterte did not apologize to Xi for raising arbitral ruling

63 diplomatic protests

Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016 and nurtured friendship with China, the DFA has filed a total of 63 diplomatic protests or notes verbale, Locsin said. Thirty-nine were filed during the term of now House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano from May 2017 to October 2018, and 24 under Locsin.

These are new figures. Cayetano, during his term, was repeatedly grilled for saying the Philippines had filed "50-100" diplomatic protests without specifying what incidents were covered.

Locsin on Wedneday said all diplomatic protests the government had filed were with China. He refused to give the House of Representatives copies of the documents, saying these were confidential.

The senior diplomat, however said, "I have changed the language of our diplomatic protest from the usual diplomatic niceties to direct protests, no nice words anymore, just objective ones."

Locsin stressed that the Philippines seems to respond only to Chinese presence in the disputed waters, disregarding other countries, particularly from the West.

"The problem was this: Western naval powers do not, as a matter of principle, ever ask for permission because they insist on total and absolute freedom of navigation," he added.

He accused the West of inventing a "stealthy technology" that enables its own ships to pass through the seas without getting tracked.

The US, a longstanding military ally of the Philippines, does not claim any part of the South China Sea, but conducts freedom of navigation operations and calls out China's alleged militarization of contested areas.

Duterte’s foreign policy has been characterized as a pivot towards China and away from the US. During his bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last week, Duterte said the long-delayed Code of Conduct which outlines what claimant countries can and cannot do in the South China Sea should be “the least concern of America.”