The Philippine Armed Forces’ Western Command (WesCom) reported Tuesday that a Chinese Navy vessel passed through the Balabac Strait, near Palawan, early on the morning of June 17 between 1:00 AM and 2:00 AM. Later that morning, about 8:00 AM, another Chinese ship was seen in the waters off Balabac with two other ships.
This is similar to earlier passages that were confirmed by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who said that Chinese warships have been passing through territorial waters claimed by the Philippines since February.
The issue in the February passages was that the Philippine authorities were not informed of them. A meeting between Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua in Manila during the July Philippine State of the Nation Address seemed to soothe the tensions. According to Lorenzana, Zhao said “… in the future, we will require those ships to inform the Chinese Embassy in Manila about intended passage in Sibutu and then inform us.”
With these latest passages, the Chinese vessels ignored radio warnings by WesCom. Vice Admiral Rene Medina, the WesCom chief, said the first vessel was “unresponsive in the succeeding challenges made by our operating unit.” On the 8:00 AM passage Medina said, “Said vessel responded to the radio challenge but did not disclose any information except its bow number.” He added that it was accompanied by two more “unresponsive” Chinesese navy vessels.
Medina went on to say, “This is also our basis for the recommendation to higher headquarters for the appropriate filling of the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) for diplomatic protest. And we are very glad that the higher headquarters and the DFA were cognizant on these reports and have taken actions.”
China has been quite active in the South China Sea in areas that are claimed to be Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) by the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian countries. These areas and their islands are militarily strategic and contain large oil reserves. Beijing has interfered with other countries’ oil exploration efforts, has built artificial islands that are believed to be for military purposes and denied access to Filipino fisherman. On June 9, a Filipino boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel.
Later this month there are discussions planned between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on a landmark United Nations arbitration that ruled in favor of the Philippines giving it sovereign rights to some areas in the West Philippine Sea. China has rejected the ruling.