Xi assures Duterte Chinese vessels no threat to Manila

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte, during the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, April 25, 2019. Xinhua

MANILA (Manila Times) – Chinese President Xi Jinping assured President Rodrigo Duterte that Chinese vessels passing through Philippine waters do not pose a threat to Manila and therefore need not secure permits to sail across the South China (West Philippine) Sea.

The assurance, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, was made during bilateral talks between Xi and Duterte when the Philippine leader visited China for the fifth time last week.

In a text message to reporters on Wednesday, Lorenzana confirmed that Duterte floated the intrusions of Chinese warships in Philippine seas.

But Xi responded by citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which the Chinese president said does not say that a permit is required before any ship from any country is allowed to pass through the territorial waters of another.

By invoking Unclos, Xi justified before Duterte that Chinese vessels merely sailing across Philippine waters are innocent and do not have bad intentions against Manila.

“He (Xi) reassured [President Duterte] that their naval ships are not coercing or targeting the Philippines,” according to Lorenzana, who was among Cabinet officials who joined the President in his Beijing trip.

Despite the assurance of Xi and his reference to Unclos, Duterte’s order for foreign ships to secure permission first from proper authorities will be enforced, the Defense chief said.

The Philippine Navy has already proposed to implement the President’s order in an “unfriendly” manner, among others.

Duterte’s directive came after the military’s Western Mindanao Command reported sightings of Chinese warships transiting through Sibutu Strait, with their automatic identification system turned off and without informing authorities about the passage.

Lorenzana, in July, disclosed there were four instances of Chinese incursions along Sibutu Strait since February.

The Philippines has filed over 60 diplomatic protests against China over a maritime row between the two countries since Duterte took office in 2016, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said also on Wednesday.

During a budget briefing of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with the appropriations panel of the House of Representatives, Locsin noted that all notes verbale were sent only to China as a response to its presence in Philippine territories, particularly in the South China Sea.

Of the 60 protests, 24 were issued under Locsin’s term and 39 were issued under former DFA chief and incumbent House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“With every incursion, we look at this from our point of view, from what we believe are our rights. With every incursion, when I was with the United Nations, I would answer them face-to-face. When I became secretary of Foreign Affairs, even if I believe that filing diplomatic protest is like throwing paper to a brick wall, I do it,” Locsin said.

“The experts say that we should keep doing it…that way, nobody can say that we have given up our rights. And so that is what we have done.

We’ve filed diplomatic protests at every turn,” he added.

The Foreign Affairs secretary also noted that he has changed his language from “diplomatic niceties” to “direct and objective” protests.

He, however, did not say what the responses and actions of the other party to this move were.

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