The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday said it will protest China’s “constant” presence in the Recto (Reed) Bank where the Philippine military reported sighting of two new Chinese vessels.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a news briefing that Recto Bank is part of the Philippine territory and not within disputed features in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
He added that the diplomatic protest will be filed at the Chinese Embassy in Makati City (Metro Manila) “as soon as possible.”
“We are protesting the conduct of sovereignty patrols by Chinese vessels on Recto Bank. The frequent passage of Chinese vessels in Recto Bank is not an innocent exercise of freedom of navigation but is actually done as part of a pattern of illegitimate sovereign patrol in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Jose said.
Recto Bank sits 144 kilometers away from western Palawan province, and is clearly part of the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) enshrined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
But China’s claim, based on its nine-dash line, covers almost 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer West Philippine Sea.
“If they say they are just passing through and exercising their freedom of navigation, there is an abuse of that right when they already have a constant and overwhelming presence,” Jose said.
The official said China’s recent activities in Recto Bank are a “unilateral move” that changes the status quo in the region and violates the Unclos and the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) signed by Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“We would like to reiterate our position that Recto Bank is not an island, rock, or low tide elevation. Recto Bank is a completely submerged bank that is part of the continental margin of Palawan,” Jose added.
The Philippine military had reported spotting two Chinese survey vessels in Recto Bank, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
Jose said there is an “emerging pattern” in China’s actions in the region, and the protest that will be filed will also address this behavior.
“This is part of the emerging pattern wherein they’re trying to exercise sovereign patrols,” he added.
Sovereign patrols means Chinese vessels are constantly moving in the area, but they are keeping their presence there.
This is China’s first aggressive action in the region after it rejected the Philippine-proposed Triple Action Plan that called for a moratorium in all activities in the region that raise tensions between claimant-countries–the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam.