President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday called on China to "temper" its behavior in the South China Sea in what could be the strongest comment of the chief executive against the Asian power after he pursued friendly ties in 2016.
"You cannot create an island, it's man-made, and you say that the air above this artifcial island is yours. That is wrong. Because those waters are considered international sea and the right of innocent passage is guaranteed," Duterte said in a speech before business leaders in Malacañang.
"It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas. And if it's nearby a territorial water you guarantee what you would call the right of innocent passage."
China has been criticized by various quarters for its supposed efforts to limit freedom of navigation and overflight in the resource-rich sea. Recently, a Chinese military shooed away a Philippine military plane that flew over the disputed waters.
"I hope that China would temper its behavior. I do not want to quarrel with China," Duterte said.
International networks CNN and BBC reported that the US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flew past the Spratly Islands where China has established military outposts on Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef and Mischief Reef.
CNN and BBC had news teams on the reconnaissance aircraft.
The US plane received six separate warnings from the Chinese military during the flight.
BBC reported that the US military plane had also recorded a warning from the Chinese to a Philippine military aircraft but delivered in a less polite manner.
"Philippine military aircraft! I’m warning you again. Leave immediately or you will bear responsibility for all the consequences!" the voice said.
The incident came even as China and the Philippines repeatedly touted improved relations under Duterte who temporarily set aside the arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing's excessive claims in order to forge stronger trade and economic ties with the Asian power.
Duterte vowed to raise the ruling at the proper time during his presidency.
Duterte, criticized for allegedly kowtowing to Beijing even amid the territorial dispute, has also repeatedly indicated that he would not provoke China into war.
The President instead pushed for stronger trade and economic relations as well as the conduct of joint exploration of oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea, the area of the South China Sea being claimed by Manila. —NB, GMA News