Chinese warships’ entry illegal, Palace says

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CHINA is violating international law for the unauthorized entry of its warships into Philippine waters, President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spokesman said yesterday.

“It’s a violation of the UNCLOS,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo told reporters yesterday, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “I am sure the secretary of Foreign Affairs will do something about that,” he added.

The Armed Forces earlier said at least five Chinese warships had passed through the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines without notifying authorities.

Mr. Panelo said he would discuss the issue with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, who has invited him to dinner. “We will call their attention,” the spokesman said.

The Philippines should expect more frequent passage of Chinese warships through its waters as China expands its naval reach, Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, posted on Facebook.

“The Chinese warships’ actions of passing through without even acknowledging the Philippine queries therefore run counter to the Philippines’ legitimate maritime safety regulations,” he said.

Mr. Batongbacal noted that the Chinese government “requires foreign warships exercising innocent passage to notify and seek the consent of China before entering its territorial seas.” Their entry without notice violates their own policy and shows a double standard, he added.

Mr. Batongbacal said the Sibutu Strait is a well-used international sea route and warships are allowed innocent passage under international law.

A passage is innocent “as long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state and should take place in conformity with the convention and other rules of international law.”

But if the Chinese ships passed through while their weapons were active or as part of a larger military exercise, then the passage was not innocent.

Passing ships must also not stop unless there is an accident or it has to save another ship or person in distress, Mr. Batongbacal said.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito E. Sobejana, chief of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command, has said the passage was “not innocent.”

Mr. Panelo earlier said the president planned to invoke a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration panel in the Hague that rebuffed Chinese claims over parts of the South China Sea when he visits Beijing later this month.

The United Nations tribunal in July 2016 ruled China’s efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law, rejecting its shared claims with Taiwan to more than 80% of the main waterway.

China rejected the decision of the international court, which has failed to halt its island-building activities in areas also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The court rebuffed years of Chinese activity in the disputed sea under President Xi Jinping, whom Mr. Duterte will meet during a visit to later this month.

Mr. Duterte, who has sought closer investment and trade ties with China since he became president in June 2016, will also bring up the alleged ramming by a Chinese ship of a Filipino fishing boat at the Reed Bank in June, Mr. Panelo said.

Chinese warships’ entry illegal, Palace says

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