Philippines won't be embroiled in US-China sea spat--Manila

USS_Hopper_800x532_US_Navy_Panatag_Chinese_air_patrol_inset-REU_file
USS Hopper sailing at sea. Chinese air patrol with Panatag Shoal in background. REUTERS
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23 January, 2018

The Chinese government has protested the USA warship near the disputed Scarborough Shoal and expressed that the Asian giant would take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty. After all, the Hopper was warned off by a Chinese Communist missile frigate and Scarborough Shoal, the island in question, isn't even inhabited - what's the point?

The US action is perceived as being part of its "freedom of navigation" operation in the South China Sea.

"China rejected the ruling, calling it "ill-founded".

The Philippines, a longtime US ally, used to challenge Chinese claims to the South China Sea.

Last October (2017), Mr Duterte said China committed to the Philippines "not to build anything" near Panatag Shoal/Scarborough Shoal and Pag-asa Island - also known as Thitu Island - in the Spratlys.

"Despite the ongoing unresolved controversy on the issue over Scarborough Shoal, what is important is that our people are once again able to pursue their fishing livelihood in Panatag", Roque told CNN Philippines.

"So for us, that is really a problem of America because we have come to a point that we now have an independent foreign policy", he said, referring to the Chinese protest against the United States warship's passage near Panatag Shoal/Scarborough Shoal.

"If I were China, I would use the Philippines' silence as evidence against their claims".

Four ASEAN countries-the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei-also claim parts of the South China Sea, along with China and Taiwan.

Click and watch this Reuters file video below. Other ships, like the Hopper's sister ship, USS John S. McCain, have made similar runs.

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Asked if the passage of the USA warship in Philippine-claimed waters was a concern, Lorenzana said: "No, for as long as they are on innocent passage".

This was according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which reported business as usual for Filipino fishermen at the shoal days after the Hopper sailed in the area to China's consternation.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that the USS Hopper had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough.

The shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos, is situated 124 nautical miles off Zambales.

The U.S. military says it carries out "freedom of navigation" operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.

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"China respects and safeguards the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea for all countries in accordance with global law, but resolutely opposes any country's move to impair China's sovereignty and security interests in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight", Mr Lu said.

Lu said the Chinese navy ordered the vessel to withdraw after determining its identity.

But as China is recasting itself as an overseer of maritime security, countries like the Philippines are sending a different kind of message: a desire to stay out of involvement.

For fear of antagonizing Beijing, Duterte made a promise not to press for China's compliance with a ruling by a UN-backed arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing's massive claim in the South China Sea and reaffirming the Philippines' entitlement.


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