MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday urged the Philippine government to ask Beijing why Chinese research vessels and warships are entering Philippine waters.
Manila lacks radar equipment to monitor the 2 Chinese research ships that were spotted by a US-based maritime expert in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone this week, said Lorenzana.
China, he said, did not ask for clearance before several of its warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in the Philippines' southern tip in 4 instances from February to July.
"What we need really is to allay the fears of the neighbors of China, to inform the other countries what their ships are doing there — not only the survey ship, but also their warships passing through our territorial waters," Lorenzana told ANC.
"Nobody is prevented from doing their research" in the area, as long as Manila is informed about it beforehand, said the official.
"If the intention is only to study the sea or the fish, marine life there, then it is not a security threat. But if they're doing other things like making reconnaissance or surveillance of our positions, then it's a threat," he added.
Beijing claims large parts of the South China Sea through which roughly $3.4 trillion in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest the territorial claims.
'CHINA A BULLY NO MORE'
Lorenzana last week called China a "bully" after its ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, said that Beijing "will not take the first shot" in the maritime dispute.
The Defense chief said his remark referred to "previous years like when they (China) took Mischief Reef forcibly from us, and also Scarborough Shoal."
"But recently, they have not been bullying us because they have not occupied any new feature in the West Philippine Sea," he said.
However, Lorenzana said he agrees with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's recent remark that China is destabilizing the Indo-Pacific because China "reclaimed shoals or reefs and made them into artificial islands, and they put long runways there, structures, and landed military aircraft and put in defensive weapons."
China is building its military for self-defense, its envoy has said.
Lorenzana, however, said "a defensive capability can be turned into offensive capability in an instant."
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he will finally raise Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims, when he visits China later this month.
With a report from Reuters