• PH asserts freedom of navigation in disputed sea

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    MALACAÑANG on Sunday deplored the reported construction by China of new runways in the disputed West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) as a top government official described the latest development as a “violation” of laws that heightens tension in the region.

    “The building of additional runways contributes to heightened tensions in the region. We reiterate that these actions by China violate not only pertinent international laws but also the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of which China is a signatory along with the member countries of Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

    In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, the official warned that the Philippine government will not be cowed into submission by China’s strong presence in the area.

    “Government is determined to assert the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea,” Coloma said.

    “The Department of Foreign Affairs had previously filed a diplomatic protest regarding the test flights made on reefs also claimed by the Philippines particularly at Kagitingan Reef, which is well within our exclusive economic zone,” he added.

    Coloma was reacting to a report by the US think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that claimed that China has stepped up its construction of runways in the disputed region amid the US government’s efforts to counter Beijing’s assertion.

    The report said Beijing will soon complete two runways that will join a newly operational landing strip on a third reef called Fiery Cross in the contested waters.

    “The runways at Subi and Mischief Reef are nearly complete. The work at Mischief has gone nearly twice as fast as it did at Fiery Cross Reef on which test flights landed earlier this month,” said Gregory Poling, a director of the Washington-based project.

    Tensions continue to rise in the Spratlys as China resorted to a rapid construction and reclamation activities.

    Manila had filed a petition against China’s nine-dash line rule in asserting its sovereignty over some isles and shoals there.

    The “memorial” or complaint is being heard by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea but China refused to take part in the judicial process.

    The Philippines and Vietnam have been vocal in their criticism of Beijing’s reclamation projects in contested reefs.

    Last week, the Philippines called for joint patrols with the United States in the West Philippine Sea.

    “There is a need for more collaborative presence in the South China Sea. Thus, in addition to freedom of navigation operations of the US, we are also suggesting that we patrol the area together,” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

    Galvez did not specify where the joint patrols would be conducted.

    While the US does not support any of the claims, it has warned China against trying to restrict air and sea passage through the WPS — a major shipping lane, rich fishing ground and potential source of mineral resources.

    Tensions flared last month when the US flew two B-52 bombers close to flashpoint islands that have been artificially built by China, reportedly by mistake.

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