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PHL, China officials say presence of Chinese ships in West PHL Sea ‘natural’

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday downplayed the supposed presence of Chinese vessels in West Philippines Sea as bared by Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano.

Zhao said it was natural to see Chinese vessels in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea, and that China is strictly adhering to the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea (DOC).

He said Article 5 of the DOC states that China and ASEAN countries agree that there will be no reclamation nor rehabilitation or habitation of the uninhabitant maritime features in the area.

"Both China and the Philippines would adhere strictly to article 5 of DOC. But you may see some presence of Chinese ships or presence of Filipino ships, those are the part that are overlapping or disputed area, so it’s quite natural for you to see some of the boats, fishing boats to be there," he said in a press briefing.

Zhao said Chinese ships in the area "are carrying their daily fishing."

"You don't have to be alarmed and both Chinese and the Filipino side have a clear understanding of what they are doing," he said.

According to Alejano, three vessels of Chinese maritime militia and a ship of the People's Liberation Army were spotted between one to five nautical miles from the sandbars of Pag-asa Island. 

He said the Chinese vessels were "harassing our patrolling vessels by continuously sounding their sirens to signify their opposition to our vessels visiting or patrolling the sandbars."

Zhao said China is committed to peaceful solution to the disputes in the South China Sea.

"We do have disputes but we have to put it in a proper context. I said repeatedly, it only constitutes one percent of our overall bilateral relationship so we need to look at the bigger picture and focus on friendship and cooperation," he said.

"In the meantime, we need to be sincere and to be candid in exchanging views, in seeking solution that is peaceful and that is acceptable to both sides," Zhao added.

He further said that they are enhancing their relations with all the claimant states, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, as a proof of their intention to be friendly with the neighboring countries.

"We are even exporting submarines, missiles to some of the claimant states. It demonstrates that China has no intention to settle it by force, otherwise we will not even sell weapons to claimant states," he said.

"We are not afraid because our intention is sincere and I believe the intention of the Philippines and other claimant states are also sincere in seeking peaceful solution to the  dispute we have."

For his part, Lorenzana said there is no conflict in the West Philippine Sea despite the presence of Chinese vessels there.

"It's natural, like the Ambassador said, that you can see a lot of ships there. It doesn't mean that the ships are doing illegal things or harassing other people but they are just there to also maybe pursue their own missions according to the claims of the Chinese," he said.

"So we are managing the conflict there, there is no violent conflict between us," he added. —KBK, GMA News