China conducts own ‘combat patrols’ in South China Sea

Evelyn Macairan - Agence France-Presse
China conducts own �combat patrols� in South China Sea
This handout photo taken on March 23, 2024 and released by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (PCG/BFAR) on March 25, 2024 shows an aerial view of BRP Datu Pagbuaya as it sails from the Philippine-held Thitu Island sheltered port, in the Spratly Islands, in the disputed South China Sea.
Philippine Coast Guard / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — China conducted yesterday military “combat patrols” in the South China Sea (SCS) as the Philippines and allies the United States, Japan and Australia embarked on joint naval exercises on the same day.

This transpired one day after defense chiefs from the four countries including the Philippines – which has been engaged in several contentious maritime disputes with Beijing recently – said they would conduct joint drills on Sunday in the area.

In a statement sent by the Chinese embassy in Manila to the media, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command said it organized a joint naval and air strategic patrol in the SCS on April 7.

“All military activities disrupting the South China Sea situation and creating buzzes are under control,” the PLA Southern Theater Command said – an obvious reference to the four-nation naval drills in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The exercises take place days before US President Joe Biden is due to hold the first trilateral summit with the leaders of the Philippines and Japan.

Top US officials have repeatedly declared the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to defending the Philippines against an armed attack in the South China Sea – to the consternation of Beijing.

China claims territorial sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, and has been increasingly assertive in the region in recent years.

Drills are a cooperative activity

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) hosted on Saturday a pre-sail conference for the quad naval drills, also known as the inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA).

Key planning members from the AFP, Australian Defence Force, Japan Self Defense Force, and United States Indo-Pacific Command, convened at the Western Command headquarters in Puerto Princesa to finalize plans for the activity.

The MCA underscores the commitment to uphold international law while promoting peace and stability in the region.

The AFP said the MCA, conducted by naval/maritime and air force units in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), prioritizes adherence to international and domestic laws, ensuring the safety of navigation and respect for the rights and interests of all states involved. It would also demonstrate the highest standards of professionalism and cooperation among participating forces.

Japan, which deployed the Murasame-class destroyer JS Akebono to the quad naval exercises, said the MCA aims to “enhance regional maritime security cooperation among the four countries, and promote freedom of navigation towards the realization of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific.’”

In a joint statement released by the defense chiefs of the Philippines, US, Australia and Japan, Japan’s Minister of Defense Minoru Kihara underscored the importance of cooperating with like-minded countries to ensure regional peace and stability.

He also stated that the issue concerning the South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region, and a legitimate concern of the international community and expressed Japan’s opposition toward any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the region.

The drills conducted yesterday are intended to “(ensure) that all countries are free to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a joint statement.

The Japanese embassy in Manila said in a statement that “anti-submarine warfare training” would be included in the drills.

PCG: China continues illegal conduct

Meanwhile, Philippine Coast Guard-WPS spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said yesterday that the China Coast Guard (CCG) continues to conduct illegal enforcement activities in the WPS.

In his Twitter account, Tarriela said the CCG’s activities was geared toward advancing its “greedy intention” in the WPS.

He said that, “The China Coast Guard continuously conducts illegal enforcement operations in the West Philippine Sea to advance their greedy intention and unlawful ambition to occupy the waters that fall within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Tarriela added that “China also hypocritically portrays itself as being concerned about the environment as the PCG and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) lawfully dropped ‘payaos’ (fish aggregating devices) in Rozul Reef in support of our Filipino fishermen.”

Tarriela’s statement was in reaction to China’s state newspaper Global Times’ post on its Twitter account.

Global Times said that according to the CCG, it handled the Philippine vessels’ “illegal operation” in accordance with their country’s laws and regulations. It also warned the Philippines that any form of infringement would be futile.

The CCG also reportedly promised to continue to enforce laws in order to safeguard their rights and interests in their jurisdictional waters, and would defend their territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.

CCG spokesperson Gan Yu insisted that their country has sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands), that included Houteng Reef and their adjacent waters.

Gan reportedly added that the Philippine vessels, under the pretext of “fishery protection,” engaged in illegal provocations and intrusions, and that it reportedly orchestrated a media hype and made misleading actions to disrupt the South China Sea.

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