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Philippines takes ‘diplomatic action’ after China lands bombers in South China Sea

MANILA (Reuters) — The Philippines is taking “appropriate diplomatic action” to assert its claims in the South China Sea after Chinese bombers landed on islands and reefs in the disputed region, the foreign ministry in Manila said on Monday.

China’s air force said bombers such as the H-6K had landed and taken off from islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of training exercises last week, drawing angry reactions from opposition lawmakers in Manila. The United States also sent ships to the disputed areas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines said it was monitoring developments.

“We are taking the appropriate diplomatic action necessary to protect our claims and will continue to do so in the future,” it said in a statement.

“We reiterate our commitment to protect every single inch of our territory and areas which we have sovereign rights over,” the statement said.

Protesters burn a Chinese flag during a rally at its consulate to protest China’s deployment of missiles on the Philippine-claimed reefs in South China Sea in the financial district of Makati, Metro Manila on May 10, 2018.  APProtesters burn a Chinese flag during a rally at its consulate to protest China’s deployment of missiles on the Philippine-claimed reefs in South China Sea in the financial district of Makati, Metro Manila on May 10, 2018. AP

However, the foreign ministry stopped short of condemning China’s action, which Washington said could raise tensions and destabilize the region.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area.

China has built seven artificial islands in the Spratlys group in the South China Sea and turned them into military outposts with airfields, radars, and missile defenses.

Beijing says its military facilities in the Spratlys are purely defensive and that it can do what it likes on its own territory.

Filipino lawmakers have criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for not confronting China in preference for his attempts to win China’s friendship, despite a favorable ruling Manila received over the disputed waterway from an arbitration court in the Hague in 2016.

Duterte has said he would not risk a confrontation with China and has reiterated his openness to undertaking joint exploration and development in waters believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.