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DFA conveys protest to Beijing over Chinese vessels

(Update) The Philippine government has conveyed to the Chinese Embassy its protest over what it called the increasing activity of Chinese naval assets in the South China Sea. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the latest protest was conveyed last Thursday, and follows a series of protest it already filed since an incident at Reed Bank last March. “The... Chinese vessels' actions hamper the normal and legitimate fishing activities of the Filipino fishermen in the area and undermine the peace and stability of the region," the DFA said in a news release posted on its website Saturday. It said that – as a matter of course – it files verbal or written protests as soon as it receives confirmed and actionable reports from the Department of National Defense. According to the DFA, the actions of the Chinese vessels in Philippine waters “are serious violations of Philippine sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction and also violate the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea." Nevertheless, it said both camps agreed to keep the channels of communication open and continue dialogue on the South China Sea issue. Last Tuesday, Manila conveyed to the Chinese Embassy's Charge d'affaires its "serious concerns" over China's recent actions in the South China Sea. The DFA said the Philippine government requested clarification from the Chinese Embassy on the recent sightings. A news release on the DFA website last Wednesday said the sightings included those of a China Marine Surveillance (CMS) vessel and other People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships at the vicinity of Iroquois (Amy Douglas) Bank in the West Philippine Sea. "These ships reportedly unloaded building materials, erected an undetermined number of posts, and placed a buoy near the breaker of the Iroquois Bank," the DFA said. Iroquois Bank is located southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank and east of Patag (Flat) Island. According to the DFA, it is "well within the Philippines' 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)." There are currently no structures on the said bank and the latter is unoccupied, it added. The DFA said the posts and buoy placed by the Chinese in the vicinity of Iroquois Bank are about 26 nautical miles east of Patag Island and 125 nautical mile from mainland Palawan. "Any new construction by China in the vicinity of the uninhabited Iroquois Bank is a clear violation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea," DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario said. The May 31 summons followed a meeting held last May 27, where the DFA also conveyed its concern to the Chinese Embassy over reports in Chinese state media about China's planned installation of its most advanced oil rig in the South China Sea this coming July. During this meeting, the DFA asked the Chinese Embassy for the exact planned location of the mega oil rig and pointed that it should not be placed in Philippine territory or its waters. In both meetings, the Philippines and China reiterated their respective commitment to the maintenance of peace and stability in the area, and to work together to maintain good bilateral relations. "The Philippines recognizes that critical to the peace and stability of the West Philippine Sea is the full and faithful implementation of the ASEAN-China DOC on the South China Sea. The Philippines also believes that it is in the best interest of all claimant countries and the region to transform the area into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation (ZOPFF/C) through sustained consultations and dialogue," the DFA said. ZOPFF/C provides a framework for segregating the disputed territorial features which may be considered for collaborative activities from the non-disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines is also committed to cooperating closely and actively with ASEAN and China in finding peaceful solutions to attain this goal. — LBG, GMA News