Chinese jets shadow Philippine aircraft in West Philippine Sea

Rainier Allan Ronda - The Philippine Star
Chinese jets shadow Philippine aircraft in West Philippine Sea
Pilots and crew of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Australian Defense Force pose for a photograph after holding a joint air patrol in the West Philippine Sea yesterday.
Image from the AFP

US conducts freedom of navigation trip in SCS

MANILA, Philippines — Aircraft from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shadowed Philippine aircraft that participated in the joint Philippine-Australia drills in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) over the weekend, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.

In an interview yesterday, Brawner said the Chinese jets that shadowed an A-29B Super Tucano from the Philippine Air Force provided the only noteworthy moment in the joint exercises.

When asked how the joint patrol exercise with Australia was going, the AFP chief said everything was going “OK,” with no untoward incidents.

“There were two Chinese jet fighters that circled our plane. They just circled,” Brawner added in Filipino.

The Philippine aircraft, he said, was shadowed by the two Chinese jets while it was flying in the vicinity of Hubo Reef.

“There was shadowing (of our plane) in the maritime (patrol), and in the air,” Brawner said. 

He said that the Super Tucano was able to finish its air and maritime patrol mission as laid out in its flight path, despite the shadowing done by the Chinese aircraft.

Brawner said that no Australian aircraft was shadowed by the Chinese PLA jet fighters. “No, none. Only ours,” he said.

Col. Xerxes Trinidad, AFP Public Affairs Office chief confirmed with defense reporters yesterday that “two Chinese fighter jets were monitored orbiting the PH’ A-29B Super Tucano at the vicinity of Hubo Reef,” and that the Philippine aircraft “continued on its flight route without untoward incident.”

Brawner said, “We are just practicing our right to conduct patrols jointly with our allies and partners in furtherance of promoting the rules-based international order. So, while doing the joint maritime and air patrols, we are following the international laws like UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), rule of law, etc.”

The AFP earlier said that two Philippine Air Force A-29B Super Tucanos – a light attack, combat and reconnaissance aircraft – joined the Philippine-Australia Maritime Cooperation Activity with the Australian Defense Force over the weekend.

US conducts freedom of navigation operation

United States Navy destroyer USS Hopper asserted navigational rights and freedom in the South China Sea (SCS) near the Paracel Islands, the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACON) said, calling the freedom of navigation operation consistent with international law.

At the conclusion of the operation on Friday, the USS Hopper exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the SCS. 

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” USINDOPACON said in a statement.

China, Vietnam and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel or warship engages in “innocent passage” through their territorial sea, in violation of international law. Under customary international law as reflected in the UNCLOS, the ships of all states – including their warships – enjoy the right of innocent passage through a territorial sea. 

It said that the unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is unlawful. 

“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage in not subject to such restrictions,” it said.

Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the SCS pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedom of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for SCS littoral nations.

The US challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant. Customary international law reflected in the 1982 UNCLOS protects certain rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by all nations. 

Washington said “the international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability, and prosperity.”

The US upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. 

“As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms,” it added.

“US forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century. They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners that share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity.”

Washington emphasized that all US operations are conducted safely, professionally and in accordance with customary international law, noting that the operations demonstrate that the US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows – regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events.

PCG towing, water cannon exercise

Meanwhile, representatives from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) observed the five-day towing and water cannon exercise conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) from Nov. 20 until Nov. 24.

In a statement, the PCG said JCG-Mobile Cooperation representatives observed the PCG’s towing exercise and gave recommendations on areas of improvement.

The PCG’s two multi-role response vessels, the BRP Teresa Magbanua and BRP Malabrigo, took part in the towing and water cannon exercise that were recently held in the vicinity waters of Lamao, Bataan. 

The two PCG vessels and their sailing crew demonstrated proper handling of emergency towing gear, selecting the correct towing line and throwing tow lines accurately to get hold of the ship.

There were also test protocols and capability demonstrations in identifying maritime threats, such as fire at sea scenarios.

In the conduct of the exercise, the PCG took into consideration the safety of the sailing crew. The maritime agency also made sure that the activity was done in accordance with the International Safety and Management Code and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea: Rules of the Road (1972). — Pia Lee-Brago, Evelyn Macairan

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