4 China navy ships passed Palawan waters, military says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 6) — At least four more Chinese vessels passed through Philippine waters in June, ignoring radio warnings made by local authorities.

The Armed Forces' Western Command (WesCom) in a statement released Tuesday revealed that a Chinese Navy vessel first transited Balabac Strait in Palawan on June 17, at around 1:30 p.m.

Vice Admiral Rene Medina, WesCom chief, noted that the vessel was "unresponsive in the succeeding challenges made by our operating unit." A little before 8 p.m. that same day, another Chinese ship was seen in waters off Balabac.

"Said vessel responded to the radio challenge but did not disclose any information except its bow number," Medina said. He said it was accompanied by two more "unresponsive" Navy vessels.

"This is also our basis for the recommendation to higher headquarters for the appropriate filling of the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) for diplomatic protest. And we are very glad that the higher headquarters and the DFA were cognizant on these reports and have taken actions," he added.

It is unclear whether this incident was included in the note verbale that was already filed to protest the passage of Chinese warships in Sibutu Strait, an internationally-recognized shipping lane south of Tawi-Tawi, without informing Philippine officials.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier told CNN Philippines it seems the Chinese warships deliberately tried to avoid being detected, saying they sailed through Sibutu Strait at least four times since February with their automatic identification system (AIS) turned off. The International Maritime Organization requires that all ships of at least 300 gross tonnage carry AIS, which would send the ships' information to other vessels and coastal authorities.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin earlier said the diplomatic protest also included the presence of more than a hundred Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island in July.

The WesCom noted that the number of Chinese vessels peaked to over 140 that month. It went down to only three due to bad weather, but immediately rose to 115 after the typhoon.

Medina said he has recommended the DFA to ask the Chinese Embassy in Manila about the presence of Chinese vessels at the vicinity of Philippine-occupied Pag-asa island, which Beijing also claims.

Malacañang said all these maritime issues with China will be discussed as President Rodrigo Duterte raises the arbitral ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month. The landmark decision, which China rejects, recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to some areas in the West Philipine Sea, where Beijing has built artificial islands, denied entry to Filipino fishermen, and interfered in oil exploration activities