AFP: China won’t intercept ships entering Spratlys

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Friday, January 4, 2013

MANILA (Updated 5:20 p.m.) -- A ranking military official welcomed Friday an assurance from the Chinese foreign ministry that they will not board and search vessels entering the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

“I think this is a good development,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command chief Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban.

Earlier reports said that China will intercept all foreign vessels entering its territorial waters in the South China Sea.

China, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei are claiming in part or in whole the Spratlys.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying later clarified that the interdiction would be limited to waters extending 12 nautical miles from the coastline of Hainan province in an effort “to strengthen border controls over the coast and maritime management.”

“We should stick to internal laws and China should respect our territory and sovereignty,” said Sabban.

The Philippines occupies seven islands and two reefs in the Spratlys that have been included as part of Kalayaan town in Palawan.

Asked what would have happened if China boarded ships passing the disputed areas, Sabban said: “I don’t think it will be good for one claimant country (to board vessels) of other countries who are respecting international laws.”

He also dismissed speculations of violence had China boarded ships in the disputed areas, saying “anybody who goes against the international law or who will violate international law will be subjected to pressure from other countries who are affected by whatever aggressive moves this claimant country does in violation of international law in the areas which other countries are also claiming.”

Sabban said they have not monitored any new vessels deployed by China in the disputed region amid reports that China will be deploying a modern patrol ship.

“As per information from commanders, we conducted aerial recon yesterday. We did see any of the new vessels that China said they will deploy to West Philippine Sea,” the official said.

Sabban, meanwhile, is hoping that the airstrip at Pagasa Island, one of the islands occupied by Philippine troops in the Spratlys, will be improved before his retirement in April.

“The airstrip is in operation, we can land our own planes there but it needs repairs due to erosion in some portions of the airstrip,” Sabban said.

“This is to restore the standard airstrip that we had before and I don’t think this is an issue because this structure has been there for more 40 years. So why do we have to delve on this issue when it has been there for so long?” he said.

Sabban said the airstrip should be improved to spur development for residents in the island.

“While other countries are promoting their own islands to become tourist destinations then we should, we might as well compete with their reefs and shoals which will definitely put us in an advantage because ours are much better than theirs,” he said.

Sabban said he is hoping that there will be no “serious violations” of the international laws this 2013 in the disputed region.

The Philippines filed several diplomatic protests against China last year for intrusions.

The official, however, declined to comment if he expects China to remain aggressive in the region this year. (VR/Sunnex)

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