MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Wednesday, April 22, said the Philippines lodged two formal protests against China’s recent moves to asserts its claims in the South China Sea.
Locsin said two diplomatic protests were filed against China’s recent pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters, as well as its declaration that portions of Philippine territory were part of Hainan province.
“Both (are) violations of international law and Philippine sovereignty,” Locsin tweeted.
China had recently announced its creation of two new districts in the South China Sea, which included the Paracel island group near Vietnam and the Spratly island group in the West Philippine Sea. Beijing said the new districts were placed under the control of the Chinese city of Sansha in Hainan province.
Locsin said the diplomatic notes were received by the Chinese embassy at 5:17 on Wednesday. He refused to give more details.
“We worked on this the whole day. And that is all that will be said on it because diplomatic notes are strictly confidential between the two states parties. Period,” he said.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed that the Philippine Navy ship involved in the incident was the BRP Conrado Yap, currently the most powerful commissioned vessel of the Philippine Fleet.
The over 30-year-old Pohang-class corvette was donated by South Korea to the Philippines in August 2019, and refitted with brand new controls and weaponry to make it the most lethal Philippine warship ahead of the arrival of two frigates this year.
“I have instructed the Philippine Navy to give me a detailed briefing on the incident,” Lorenzana said, declining to give further comment or details.
China’s efforts to take control of the South China Sea come as countries grapple to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Prior to the creation of the new districts, a China Coast Guard ship harassed and sank a Vietnamese boat in the maritime area, an incident that the Philippines protested. Beijing also established two research stations in its artificial islands in Fiery Cross and Subi reefs.
Just recently, China named 80 features in the South China Sea – a move that violates international law and aggravates tensions in the volatile region.
Former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario earlier urged the Philippines to protest China’s moves, saying Beijing actions only show it “has been relentless in exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues to pursue its illegal and expansive claims in the South China Sea.”
The United States had earlier warned China “to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea” as countries are preoccupied with fighting the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Vietnam, which claims the Paracels, earlier protested China’s creation of districts in the South China Sea on Monday, April 20, calling it a “serious violation” of its sovereignty.