Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Wednesday said the presence of the US and other “non-regional forces” could stir up the South China Sea, which he said is already calm.
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China warns US, others in South China Sea: 'Stop stirring trouble'
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — China warned the United States and other nations against stirring up trouble in the “calm” South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Wednesday said the presence of the US and other “non-regional forces” could stir up the South China Sea, which he said is already calm.

Lu made the statement when asked to comment on the presence of USS Wasp in the disputed waters near the Philippines and the shoals.

“I may need to check on the specific situation. I can tell you that the principled position of the Chinese side is that we hope non-regional forces will refrain from stirring up troubles in the calm South China Sea,” Lu said.

The USS Wasp, a helicopter carrier of the US Marines with F35B Lightning II stealth fighter jets, was spotted near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal that China has occupied since 2012.

Officials said the ship was participating in this year’s joint Balikatan exercises with the Philippine military.

Reports said fishermen from Zambales on their way to fish in Chinese-controlled Panatag Shoal saw fighter jets taking off and landing on the aircraft carrier.

Officials said the USS Wasp was only around 35 to 40 nautical miles off Zambales. Panatag is farther away at around 160 nautical miles from the mainland.

Malacañang said on Wednesday it would consider Chinese presence near islands occupied by Filipinos an assault on Philippine sovereignty.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo emphasized the Chinese have “no business being there.”

Panelo was reacting to the reported presence of Chinese vessels off Kota Island and Panatag last March 28.

Chinese fishing boats, Coast Guard vessels and maritime militia ships also “swarmed” the areas surrounding Pag-asa Island, the largest of nine Philippine-controlled islets in the disputed Spratlys region.

Officials said the swarming was an effort by the Chinese to stymie the further development of the island.

President Duterte told China to “lay off” Pag-asa Island because he has soldiers there.

Duterte warned he will order the soldiers to prepare for a “suicide mission” to defend the island.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the military is just awaiting the green light from Malacañang to deploy forces and defend the country’s sovereignty.

“We are ready to go into action if we are ordered to do so, not really in the context that we are ready to go to war but to defend our sovereignty and territory. That’s what we’re going to do,” Andolong said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said the presence of Chinese ships around Pag-asa is illegal as the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the island, which China calls Thitu.

The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of the Chinese swarm.

Panelo said China is expected to respond to the Philippines’ protest within days.

Non-negotiable

Malacañang said the Philippine government would continue to be “diplomatically kind” to China but matters of national sovereignty remain “non-negotiable.”

Panelo said the Duterte administration’s policy of seeking friendship with China has been effective despite the presence of Chinese ships in Philippine-claimed areas. 

The spokesman noted China provided firearms to the Philippines when Islamic State-linked terrorists occupied Marawi City. He also cited the China-funded rehabilitation center in Agusan del Sur.

“We’re returning the courtesy... We need a studied response. We are not reckless. We don’t just claim ‘There are vessels there’,” Panelo said.

Asked how the Philippines is reciprocating China’s “kindness,” Panelo replied: “By being diplomatically kind to them with respect to whatever action they are doing, at the same time asserting our sovereignty and our determination not for any foreign country to intrude into our sovereignty.”

Panelo said China should reciprocate the Philippines’ kindness by leaving the areas that belong to the Philippines. 

“You know, we’re supposed to be friends. And as to the President, he says ‘friends don’t do that.’ If we are friends, we should be friendly in terms of our actions,” Panelo said. 

“We are kind in the sense that we are courteous to them but with respect to sovereignty issue, that’s a different story. We have to assert our sovereignty... It’s non-negotiable,” he added. 

Panelo said the issue may be discussed during the bilateral meeting between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Belt and Road forum in Beijing later this month. 

“My educated guess is since we have already raised that, they may respond during the bilateral talk,” Panelo said. – With Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude

BALIKATAN EXERCISES PANATAG SHOAL SOUTH CHINA SEA WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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