Navy to increase visibility in WPS as China enacts 'very alarming' coast guard law — AFP chief

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Navy to increase visibility in WPS as China enacts 'very alarming' coast guard law � AFP chief
In this April 5, 2019 photo, amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) maneuvers alongside the Philippine Navy offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS 16) in the West Philippine Sea in support of Exercise Balikatan 2019.
US Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker

MANILA, Philippines — (Updated 3:10 p.m.) The new chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Tuesday said the navy would be increasing its visibility in the West Philippine Sea in response to a new Chinese law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

"China's pronouncement that their coast guard can fire on people intruding on their territory is very alarming," Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who took over as AFP chief last Thursday, said partially in Filipino during an interview with state-run PTV.

Sobejana further scored Beijing's coast guard law, which also authorizes the demolition of other countries' structures on Chinese-claimed reefs, as "very irresponsible."

"[O]ur countrymen go to the disputed area not to wage war but to make a living," he said in Filipino.

"What we will do, as part of our mandate to secure the people, is to increase [our] visibility through the deployment of naval assets," Sobejana added in a mix of Filipino and English. He also emphasized "that our navy presence there is not to wage war against China but to secure our own people."

Beijing has long refused to acknowledge an arbitral ruling that junked its claims over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines earlier filed a diplomatic protest against China's coast guard law, which Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodro Locsin Jr. called "a verbal threat of war."

Locsin, who reversed his earlier position that the law was "none of our business," has also promised to take steps beyond the protest if an incident with China's coast guard occurs.

Amid uproar against the new law, the Chinese Embassy in Manila denied any threat of war and insisted that its coast guard law does not "specifically target any certain country."

Locsin: Philippines will go on doing as it pleases in its territory

Following Sobejana's comments, Locsin on Thursday reiterated in strong terms the Philippines' opposition to China's new law and asserted its ownership of the West Philippine Sea. 

"[W]e are not gonna study that law to find a way around it like mice—or collaborators," the country's top diplomat said on Twitter. 

"I forbid Filipino officials to read that law; we will go on doing as we please in our territory [and] within our sovereign rights under UNCLOS and Arbitral Award regardless of any foreign law."

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