MANILA, Philippines — Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua told Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that it was not true that Chinese aircraft carrier CV-16 Liaoning passed through Philippine waters recently.
Lorenzana and Zhao met during President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address last week.
“According to him (Zhao), Liaoning did not pass through Sibutu Strait but I told him that according to our troops on the ground there were four instances that warships passed there,” Lorenzana told CNN Philippines’ “The Source.”
Zhao then assured Lorenzana that he will ask their navy to inform the Chinese Embassy in Manila if warships will pass through Philippine waters and inform the Department of National Defense afterwards.
Troops confirm Chinese warships passed through
Troops on the ground confirmed that Chinese warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi in four instances in the four months but Liaoning was not seen.
“I have asked our commander in Tawi-Tawi — Col. (Camilo) Balutan — and he said they did not see any aircraft carrier passing the strait in the past six months but there were four instances according to him that there were Chinese warships that passed through there,” Lorenzan said.
The Defense chief added that that it was possible that the Chinese aircraft carrier passed through at night and were not seen by the Philippine military.
Chinese warships passing through the area turned off their Automatic Identification System so they cannot be monitored but they can still be seen by the naked eye.
“I think it’s possible. They might have passed through in the dead of the night and since they do not open their… indentification system, our radar cannot detect them nor can our watchers see them because it’s dark,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said he will seek clarification from the Chinese envoy on this matter.
“I don’t know why he (Zhao) did not admit it,” the secretary said.
Taiwan: Chinese carrier passed through Sibutu Strait
Taiwanese media had released a map of the Liaoning’s recent transit, confirming that the Chinese aircraft carrier passed Sibutu Strait.
The map was posted on the OdeoSoldier Twitter account, showing how the Chinese warship passed through the southern part of the Philippines before entering the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
The Chinese aircraft carrier appears to have come from the Taiwan Strait before heading southwest and down Mindanao before entering the West Philippine Sea through south of Palawan.
The Taiwanese defense ministry confirmed this passage in its website based on a June 25 report from the South China Morning Post.
In a statement posted on its website, the Taiwanese defense ministry assured its people that the military is monitoring the movements of the Liaoning and its five other warships escorting it.
If this is true, Lorezana said the transit of the Chinese aircraft carrier in the waters of Tawi-Tawi cannot be considered as innocent passage.
The Defense secretary clarified that warships of other countries do not need to ask permission from the Philippines if they will pass through but they should inform the government where they are coming from and where they are going.
“I do not consider that as innocent passage. What is its purp[ose in going around our country?” Lorenzana said, adding that he would have to ask China of their purpose in doing so.