China steps up naval drills

China’s Shandong aircraft carrier has conducted exercises in the South China Sea – military drills which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said will be regularly held in the disputed regional waters.

PLA Navymen pour out of the Shandong aircraft carrier in this file photo. China says it will hold military exercises regularly in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, coming at the heels of a Philippine Coast Guard’s staging of naval drills in Philippine-claimed islands and shoals in the West Philippine Sea.

“We hope the outside world can view (the exercise) objectively and rationally. The PLA Navy will continue to organize similar exercises according to the plan regularly in the future,” PLA Navy spokesman Sr. Capt. Gao Xiucheng said in a statement published by state-owned media Global Times.

This is the first known voyage this year of the Shandong aircraft carrier group.

China’s other aircraft carrier, Liaoning, left the South China Sea last month after being deployed in the waters along with a strike group that included a guided missile destroyer, a frigate and a replenishment ship.

Gao said the military drill will contribute to boosting the PLA Navy’s capability to safeguard China’s sovereignty as well as regional peace and stability.

Meanwhile, Malacañang told critics of President Rodrigo Duterte to let him pursue a “careful, calibrated and calculated foreign policy to its ultimate success” as hundreds of Chinese militia vessels have swarmed the West Philippine Sea since March.

Roque said former officials, including retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, “are not helping our country” and are “misleading and endangering our people with illegal, impractical and irresponsible statements.”

“They should leave international relations to the one who has the foresight, information, and constitutional mandate to make sound foreign policy decisions,” Roque said.

A militant fishermen’s group, however, took the initiative to file three petitions urging the United Nations to act on China’s incursions.

According to the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), the petitions call on the UN to declare China’s Coast Guard Law null and void, seek the demilitarization of the South China Sea, and probe the effect of the incursion to Filipino fishers’ livelihood and domestic food security.

“Our appeal is in the framework of upholding the basic rights to food and livelihood of our fisherfolk, who are the direct victims, and for the peaceful, diplomatic and non-military resolution to the Chinese aggression and plunder,” Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement Sunday.

“The Filipino fishers are tired of Mr. Duterte compromising our sovereignty in the name of foreign loans and now, vaccines,” he added.

Del Rosario, for his part, chided Duterte for saying the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s massive nine-dash line over the SCS cannot be enforced, saying the President should not take a defeatist stance.

“There are various ways to enforce the outcome, one of which is to submit our case before the UN General Assembly to compel China to abide by the rule of law. There are several precedents that have resulted in which a small country won over a much larger country in the UN General Assembly,” Del Rosario said in an open letter to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

“China has been taking away our land and waters. We would like to ask, Mr. Secretary, why our fellow Filipinos are being chastised for wanting to defend our country, rather than China? Why are we giving more importance to China over that of our own people?” he added.

On the other hand, Senator Richard Gordon said Filipinos may be known for being hospitable, but that does not extend to “intruders.”

“History is witness to that – guests are always welcome to our homes, but we are not hospitable to intruders. Our national anthem resounds with the line ‘sa manlulupig di ka pasisiil,’” the senator said.

Gordon made the statement after Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian said China is a true friend of the Philippines as shown by its readiness to help the Duterte administration secure vaccines while other countries were busy fanning maritime tensions in the region.

“Certain countries, while looking at Philippines’ anxiety of vaccine need with indifference, tried to sow discord by taking advantage of the differences between China and the Philippines,” the ambassador said during an online vaccine summit over the weekend.

“We should stay alert. The tougher the time is, the wider our eyes should be open. We would eventually know who the real friends and reliable partners are,” Huang added.

On Saturday, members of the group Makabansang Alyansa trooped to the US embassy in Manila to call for the pullout of US vessels in the South China Sea to allow the Philippines “to pursue a sovereign and non-aligned foreign policy.”

“To lessen tension between claimants, a country with no territorial claims should withdraw from (the WPS),” said Roperto Nambio, Makabansa spokesman.

“In the case of the Philippines, bilateral talks between claimant China and our country should be pursued. Multilateral and third-party countries who have no territorial claims should never be entertained,” the group added.

President Rodrigo Duterte last week raised doubts on the commitment of the United States to come to the Philippines’ defense if maritime tensions come to a head.

The President also directed Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea not to leave the waterway despite the risk of damaging the country’s present relationship with China.

“This will really be a test: I read China said we (Philippine ships) should leave. I now say (to PH vessels): Do not leave. Period. Regardless of whether America will help us or not. Let us stop pinning our hopes on America. They will not help us. A nuclear war – you think America will intervene?” Duterte said Wednesday.

The President said he did not want to contend with China over the WPS, but reiterated the Philippines maintains its claim of sovereignty over the islands and the waters within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“I am stating it for the record: We do not want war with China. China is a good friend. We owe China a debt of gratitude – including our vaccines. Let it be known that China is a good friend and we do not want trouble with China. But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise,” the President said.

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