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Philippines: China ships’ incursions becoming ‘irritant’

MANILA (The Philippine Star) — Philippine security officials have been expressing concern over the entry of Chinese warships in Philippine waters, the latest of which is the passage of three vessels through Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi this month.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said the series of incursions of Chinese warships into Philippine waters has become an “irritant.”

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said he agrees with Lorenzana. “It’s becoming an irritant if you keep on repeating certain acts that may be viewed to be in violation of the (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and not as an act of friendship between two countries.”

Asked how the government intends to deal with such irritant, Panelo said “the government can always file a diplomatic protest and let them respond to it.”

Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific, said the violation of international rules of order in territorial seas is disconcerting.

Rain clouds loom over the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as it is anchored off Manila Bay for a port call on  Aug. 7, 2019. USS Ronald Reagan sailed through the disputed South China Sea in the latest show of America’s military might amid new territorial flare-ups involving China and three rival claimant states.  APRain clouds loom over the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as it is anchored off Manila Bay for a port call on Aug. 7, 2019. USS Ronald Reagan sailed through the disputed South China Sea in the latest show of America’s military might amid new territorial flare-ups involving China and three rival claimant states. AP

“I think quite frankly any activity that we see both at sea and in the air, and increasingly now we’re also having the same conversation in space and in cyber, has got to adhere to some international rules of order that we all live by. So, anybody in the region that violates those, it’s concerning,” Goldfein said in a media teleconference.

Goldfein made the comment after he was asked for his thoughts on the unauthorized passage of Chinese warships in Sibutu Strait.

He said the U.S. wants to ensure the global commons are kept open for all and that is why they are doing freedom of navigation operations.

“So part of our engagement here, and our presence here, is to make sure that we keep the global commons open for all. And everybody benefits when we can have freedom of navigation, to include China,” Goldfein said, reiterating America’s commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the U.S. and the Philippines in 1951.

“There’s no letup in our willingness or our ability to fly or sail where we need to and when we need to, and there will be no letup in the future. That’s our commitment to the region,” he added.

U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Charles Brown Jr. said any violation of rules-based international order should be called out.