Palace concerned over China ships in Panatag

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Palace concerned over China ships in Panatag

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday expressed concern over the presence of Chinese naval vessels near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is off Zambales and well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Earlier this week, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel reported seeing a Chinese warship, coast guard vessels and militia boats around Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Three Filipino fishing boats were also seen near the traditional fishing ground, according to PCG spokesman Capt.Armand Balilo.

Officials said no incidents of harassment of Filipino fishermen were reported in the last few days near the shoal, which is 124 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales.

Sought for comment on the PCG report, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said: “We are always concerned on any intrusion to our sovereignty.”

Panelo, however, said he is leaving it to the Department of Foreign Affairs to issue a statement on the incident.

“The reaction of (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin (Jr.) will be the reaction of Malacañang,” he said.

Panelo said the presence of Chinese warships around Panatag should “definitely” be discussed through the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) between China and the Philippines. The BCM serves as forum for the two countries to discuss the South China Sea row peacefully.

“That’s one topic to be discussed during the bilateral mechanism,” Panelo said.

Asked if he thought the deployment of Chinese warships to Panatag was a form of betrayal considering Beijing’s repeated vow to promote regional peace and stability, Panelo said: “Let’s see. We do not know exactly their reason, they have to state their position on this.”

Despite the establishment of a bilateral mechanism, reports on China’s aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea continue, the latest of which was its harvesting of giant clams at Panatag.

China’s occupation of Panatag Shoal began in 2012 after its ships barred the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese poachers.

At the Chinese embassy on Monday, chargé d’affaires Tan Qingsheng said China is “unafraid” of a trade war and is ready to fight one if necessary – from which it expects to emerge stronger.

Tan issued the statement at a dinner celebration of the 121st anniversary of Philippine Independence.

“China does not want a trade war, but we are not afraid of one and we will fight one if necessary. For the past two centuries, we have been in worse scenarios, but we have survived and flourished. The trade war will not break China, but make us even stronger,” Tan told dinner guests including Philippine and Chinese officials. The event coincided with the 18th Philippines-China Friendship Day.

Amid the prospect of a trade war, Tan said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have lowered their projections of 2019 world economic growth by 0.3 percent.

“The question we need to ask is whether a superpower should put its own narrow interest over other countries and the world at large,” he added.

The Chinese diplomat added that China will continue to pursue development and will remain committed to fostering cooperation with other countries. 

He emphasized the importance of free trade and market principles in the global economy, and claimed that “what the US is doing is to undermine these basic principles and politicize and magnify trade disputes.” 

“It is very dangerous when a superpower is not only building physical walls on its borders, but also building tariff and technology walls against other countries,” Tan said.

Earlier, the US warned China that it would have to make a choice if it wants to participate in a rules-based order and prevent a new Cold War.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Beijing should abandon its South China Sea militarization and other expansionist activities in the region.

Japan – through its Ambassador Koji Haneda – congratulated the Philippines on the 121st anniversary of its independence, saying the two nations are now enjoying the “Golden Age of Strategic Partnership.”

In his message, Haneda said Japan and the Philippines “have built a strong bond over the past decade,” made even stronger by President Duterte’s recent visit to Japan.

“It is my fervent hope that the warm relations existing between Japan and the Philippines will be further enhanced in the years ahead,” Haneda said. “I wish the Philippine people peace and prosperity over the coming year.” – With Pia Lee-Brago