Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana flew to the disputed Pag-Asa island within the South China Sea on Friday, disregarding a problem by the Chinese navy whereas asserting Manila’s territorial declare to the strategic area.
“This is just a normal visit within our territory, which we believe and we know is (our) territory,” the minister advised reporters who accompanied him on the temporary journey.
China claims many of the South China Sea, together with Pag-Asa, identified internationally as Thitu island.
In current years Beijing has been increase disputed reefs into synthetic islands, together with on Subi Reef about 26 kilometers (14 nautical miles) from Pag-Asa, which may home navy amenities.
Lorenzana mentioned development would begin “within the next few weeks” for a quay on the island the place development supplies will likely be landed for repairs on an current airstrip on the biggest of 9 Philippine-garrisoned outcrops within the Spratly archipelago.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam additionally declare the Spratlys, both wholly or partly.
As the navy transport aircraft bearing Lorenzana and officers of Palawan, the biggest land mass near the Spratlys, ready to land, the protection chief mentioned the pilots acquired a warning from Chinese forces on Subi.
He mentioned the pilots have been warned the plane was illegally coming into Chinese territory, a routine for all Philippine plane touchdown on the Pag-Asa airstrip since China reclaimed Subi. He mentioned his pilots disregarded the warning.
“That’s their protocol. That’s procedural. We also reply that we are flying over Philippine territory,” he mentioned.
Lorenzana visited Pag-Asa greater than every week after President Rodrigo Duterte pulled again from an announcement to go to the island on June 12 and lift the Philippine flag there.
Duterte mentioned later he had referred to as off the journey “because we value our friendship” with Beijing.
Reversing the course set by predecessor Benigno Aquino III, Duterte has sought to enhance the nation’s relations with Beijing by adopting a non-confrontational strategy over their competing claims within the strategically very important waters believed to take a seat atop large oil and fuel reserves.
Lorenzana nevertheless mentioned Duterte was not backing down from his orders for the navy to strengthen its installations within the Spratlys, and has alloted P1.6 billion for these.
He mentioned each China and Vietnam have lengthy been fortifying their very own garrisons on close by outcrops.
“We all know that China is the most powerful country in our neighborhood, they are economically powerful, also militarily,” Lorenzana mentioned.
“We are trying to manage the issue and talk to them… settle this dispute in the South China Sea,” he mentioned.
As Lorenzana flew to Pag-Asa, the Philippine coast guard introduced a gaggle of Filipino fishermen have accused China’s coast guard of capturing at their vessel in one other part of the Spratlys.
Philippine officers mentioned they have been investigating the reported assault on the Princess Johann boat, which the crew mentioned occurred close to the Chinese aspect of the Union Banks atoll on March 27.
There have been no casualties through the incident, authorities added.
“(Princess Johann) was reportedly fired upon seven times by a Chinese speedboat with seven Chinese coast guards on board,” a Philippine Coast Guard assertion mentioned.
Chinese international ministry spokesperson Lu Kang advised reporters at an everyday briefing that Beijing had “no information” on the matter.
If confirmed, the incident can be the primary hostile episode in almost a yr involving the 2 nations, which have seen warming relations since Duterte got here to energy.