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President Aquino to bring up intrusion with China’s defense chief

President Aquino wants to convey to the Chinese Defense Minister that incidents, like the recent Chinese intrusion in Reed Bank, should be minimized, “or there could be conflict.” Photo by Rolando Mailo/Malacanang Photo Bureau/PCOO

STRESSING that he wanted to avoid conflict, President Aquino said on Sunday that he would raise today with visiting Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie the recent Chinese intrusion in Reed Bank, which the Philippines regards as part of its territory.

Liang, who is here for a five-day visit until Wednesday, will pay a courtesy call on Mr. Aquino in Malacañang at 3 p.m. today.

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Speaking to reporters after attending the 102nd commencement exercise of the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine, the President noted that there were many incidents at Reed Bank, as well as the disputed Spratly islands.

Mr. Aquino said the Philippines had long been pitching for the observance of a code of conduct in the Spratlys and encouraging dialogues among claimants “instead of having incidents happening there.”

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“In the interest of maintaining good bilateral relations, we will express our sentiments and ask them how we should look at these incidents,” the President said. “The endpoint of which is we hope this kind of incidents will be minimized or there could be conflict.”

Harassment

Mr. Aquino was referring to the incident in March when two Chinese vessels allegedly harassed a Philippine government exploration at Reed Bank, prompting Manila to send planes and Coast Guard ships in the area.

The President said the Philippine military also was unable to positively identify the two foreign fighter jets sighted last week in the vicinity of the disputed Kalayaan Islands in the Spratlys. The two fighter jets were earlier reported to belong to China.

He said the aircraft that spotted the fighter jets—two OV-10s—were on weather patrol and flying at a lower altitude. The two jets, he said, were “not at a parallel course but at a right angle,” and flew higher and faster.

But Mr. Aquino disclosed that the Philippine military had monitored “many and different sightings and various other vessels” in the disputed areas, including a submarine.

He said the military was unable to identify the submarine because it went under before a military plane came closer.

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The Spratlys, a reputedly oil-rich chain of tiny islands and reefs located off Palawan, is claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Protest over claim

In March, the Philippines lodged a protest in the United Nations over China’s claim to the Spratlys and adjacent South China Sea waters, particularly the “nine-dotted line,” a map attached to a 2009 Chinese letter that delineated China’s claim.

In the face of reported intrusions by the two jets, Sen. Joker Arroyo said the country could only rely on its military if a row with China over Spratlys erupted.

Despite a Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington, Arroyo said the United States had not issued any word of caution to China over the disputed islands.

“The US will not go to war with us,” he said on radio. “What we get is only the assurance of the US ambassador, but the words of the ambassador amount to nothing.”

“We have to defend ourselves and not to think that America will defend us,” Arroyo added.

Weak militarily

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for his part, said the intrusions by the fighter jets only further drove home the point that the Philippines was weak militarily.

“They’re doing that to us because we are a weak country. In international law, the law of force prevails. Diplomacy works where there are no special interests,” Enrile said on radio.

The long-term solution, he said, was to modernize the AFP and boost the fleet of Air Force.

“If they intrude into our air space, hit them with a rocket. But we should not be proud if we don’t have the capability,” he said. With a report from TJ Burgonio

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TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines, China, Geopolitics, Kalayaan, Philippine Government, Spratlys, United Nations, Visiting Forces Agreement
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