China urges PH: Respect our sovereignty and rights, stop drills in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — The Chinese Foreign Ministry is urging the Philippines to respect their sovereignty, rights, and interests in the South China Sea, and to stop any action that will complicate the situation in the area.

“We urge the relevant side to respect China's sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.

This was his response when asked to comment about the maritime exercises being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.

Wang also reiterated China’s sovereignty over Nansha Islands, or the Spratly Islands, as well as the Zhongye Island (Pag-asa Island) and Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) which is part of what they call the Zhongsha Islands and their adjacent waters, and that they exercise jurisdiction in relevant waters. This is despite an arbitral tribunal ruling in The Hague in 2016 affirming the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone, which the other party has consistently refused to recognize.

Filipino officials, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. and a number of senators, took exception to China’s statement. They asserted the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, citing the 2016 Hague arbitral ruling which also invalidated China’s expansive "nine-dash-line" claims over virtually the entire sea.

On Sunday, members of the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources began their “intensified” maritime training in the disputed waters. Authorities said eight capital ships have been deployed in Bajo De Masinloc and Pag-asa Island.

These will also be used to perform drills in the Batanes Group of Islands, Benham Rise, as well as in the southern and eastern portions of the Philippines.

Exercises will include navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations.

Last month, authorities reported the presence of around 200 Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe reef, which is located close to Bataraza, Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the Kalayaan Island Group.

The Philippines has lodged at least 78 diplomatic protests against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. Locsin has recently ordered the filing of daily protests until China removes its vessels from the West Philippine Sea.

However, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said these protests are not being taken seriously due to a verbal fishing agreement made by President Rodrigo Duterte with China.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque already denied such agreement, stressing that Duterte does not condone "unlawful" fishing by any state in the country's waters.

RELATED: Palace says Duterte to pursue bilateral ties with China despite territorial disputes