Duterte calls PRC claim to airspace above South China Sea ‘wrong’
The Associated Press
The Philippine president said in mid-August 2018 that the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) claim to airspace above newly built islands and surrounding waters in the disputed South China Sea “is wrong,” and the PRC should not tell others to leave those areas to avoid possible clashes.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks in a speech to an audience that included the American ambassador and other foreign guests were a rare public criticism of the PRC, which he has refused to antagonize to nurture closer relations.
“They have to rethink that, because that would be a flashpoint someday and even, you know, warning others,” Duterte, pictured, said of ’the PRC’s actions to uphold its claims in the disputed waters. “You cannot create an island, it’s man-made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours.
“That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea,” the president said. He added that “the right of innocent passage is guaranteed. It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas.”
The Associated Press recently reported that the Philippines has expressed concern to the PRC over an increasing number of Chinese radio messages warning Philippine aircraft and ships to stay away from Beijing-held artificial islands in the disputed waters.
CNN also recently reported that the PRC military repeatedly warned a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon plane to “leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding” while the reconnaissance aircraft flew close to some of the man-made islands.
“I hope that China would temper … its behavior,” Duterte said, warning that in the disputed sea, “one of these days a hothead commander there will just press a trigger.”
A Philippine government report showed that in the second half of 2017, Philippine military aircraft received PRC radio warnings at least 46 times while patrolling near the artificial islands built by the PRC in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago.
Philippine officials have raised concerns twice over the transmissions, including in a meeting with PRC counterparts in Manila earlier in 2018 that focused on the Asian countries’ long-unresolved territorial disputes, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The PRC transformed seven disputed reefs into islands using dredged sand. The new islands stand close to islands occupied by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Malaysia and Brunei are the other claimants to the chain of islands and barren islets and atolls.
The messages used to originate from PRC coast guard ships, but military officials suspect the transmissions now also come from the PRC-held artificial islands, where far more powerful communications and surveillance equipment have been installed along with weapons such as surface-to-air missiles.
“Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea,” Cmdr. Clay Doss, public affairs officer of the U.S. 7th Fleet, said by email in response to questions about the Chinese messages. “These communications do not affect our operations,” Doss said.
Although the U.S. lays no claims to the strategic waterway, its Navy has deployed ships and aircraft in operations to promote freedom of navigation and overflight, which the PRC protests as foreign meddling in an Asian dispute.
A Philippine Air Force plane on patrol near the PRC-held islands received a particularly offensive radio message in late January 2018 when it was warned by PRC forces that it was “endangering the security of the Chinese reef. Leave immediately and keep off to avoid misunderstanding,” according to the Philippine government report.