Manila: The palace has described reports over China’s recent moves to deploy missile launchers in several islands in the South China Sea are “worrisome”, but said that it remains committed to resolving the issue diplomatically.
“Any form of militarisation of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is really worrisome, given that it is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. But we are not concluding that actually this is because we’re still verifying,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a recent press briefing in Davao City.
There have been reports that China has deployed missile launchers in three islands in the South China Sea which it claims to be part of its territory, namely: Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef, Subi (Zamora) Reef, and Mischief (Panganiban) Reef on the Spratly Islands.
These three reefs, which were reclaimed in 2014 and concrete structures including runways constructed therein were located more than 600 kilometres away from Hainan, their closest point within Chinese territory.
In comparison, these three reefs are located some 250 kilometres away from the Philippines in the east and Vietnam in the west.
It was also reported by various media outfits that, aside from building runways from where commercial as well as combat aircraft can fly from, the Chinese had also built launchers for their HQ-9B long-range, surface-to-air missiles as well as for the YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles.
The HQ-9B has the capability of shooting down aircraft, drones and cruise missiles that intrude within 160 nautical miles of any of the three islands. On the other hand, the YJ-12B cruise missiles can destroy ships up to as far as 295 kilometres.
Roque said the Philippines would file diplomatic protests while pointing out that “all diplomatic possibilities,” will be exhausted to resolve the issue.
Unlike previous the previous administration under President Benigno Aquino III which had taken a more stern position with regards to its relations with China, Roque said administration of President Rodrigo Duterte will make full use of its “very good relationship” with Beijing.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, during a press briefing in Beijing last Friday, said it believes that all construction activities in the disputed area, which she described as ‘Nansha’ (Spratlys), “are meant to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security.
“China will continue to work with all countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. It is worth mentioning that the US has been upping its military deployment and flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. That is exactly ‘militarisation,” she said.
Philippine Senator Bam Aquino, for his part, said China’s deployment of the missile systems it the height of months of disregard by China on the issue.
“The government does not give importance to our country’s sovereignty,” Aquino, who is from the political opposition, said.
It may be recalled that in July 2016, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration handed its favouring the Philippines’ arbitration case contesting China’s claims over islands in the South China Sea including Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef.
According to the United Nations arbitral tribunal, China does not have historic rights over the disputed territories. Beijing has rejected these assertions by the UN body and the Philippine government.