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China warns PH to take its words seriously over WPS sovereignty

China on Monday warned the Philippines to take its words “seriously” and declared that it will do “what is necessary” to protect its interest in the South China Sea, which it claims is in violation of a UN tribunal ruling.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued the warning Monday night as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) labeled Beijing’s recent actions in the South China Sea, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, as “irresponsible” and said they could lead to its “global isolation.”

“China once again urges the Philippines to take seriously China’s concerns,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, in a statement.

Beijing also called on Manila to “stop making provocations and creating troubles at sea, and stop groundless attacks and smears.”

China had repeatedly ignored the Philippines’ sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, despite the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Ruling, and insists it has “indisputable” ownership over it and the rest of the South China Sea.

The Philippines recently strengthened its efforts to protect its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea by conducting patrol and resupply missions as China took more aggressive actions, such as installing floating obstacles and firing water cannons at Filipino ships.

NAVAL EXERCISES. Officers on board BRP Antonio Luna (photo below) help navigate ships from the Philippine, American and Australian navies (main photo) during the SAMASAMA multilateral exercises among the allies in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday. PH Navy photos

China said the Philippines must do everything “to avoid undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea and harming the common interests of countries in the region.”

But China’s recent actions in the West Philippine Sea have been denounced by other countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

In the face of widespread criticism, however, China said it “will continue to, in accordance with our domestic laws and international law, do what is necessary to firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Beijing’s statement came after it noted “a series of steps” that the Philippines took in the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal “that seriously violate China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Beijing said that the Ayungin Shoal “has been China’s territory since ancient times,” and not of the Philippines “on the grounds of its comparative proximity to Philippine territory.”

It also called the arbitration ruling as “illegal, null and void” because “territorial issues are not subject to UNCLOS,” the law that served as the basis for the ruling.

Beijing claimed that the Philippines’ grounding of BRP Sierra Madre in the West Philippine Sea “gravely violated” China’s sovereignty and passed “the responsibility for the current situation at sea completely” to the Philippines.

“China cannot accept the Philippines’ acts of going back on its words again and again and violating China’s territorial sovereignty,” it said, referring to the supposed but unproven promise made by Manila to remove the vessel.

“The Philippines has the responsibility to tow away the grounded military vessel,” it added.

AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., meanwhile, dismissed as propaganda China’s claim that its coast guard has driven a Filipino naval vessel away from the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

“Although we are still verifying the incident, it seems nothing of the sort took place. So, it seems to be propaganda coming from China,” he said, speaking in Filipino.

Earlier, the China Coast Guard announced that it had driven away a “Philippine Navy (PN) gunboat” after they spotted it “intruding” into the waters adjacent to Huangyan Island, the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal.

Scarborough Shoal is known in the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal.

Brawner said the PN has no presence in the Scarborough Shoal, and that only the Coast Guard is there.

He also said if there were a Navy ship in the area, they would never allow it to be driven away.

Brawner recently bared plans to create more brigade combat teams as it shifts its focus to territorial defense.

These teams are “highly mobile” units and “combined arms” in composition, which means that they would have their own artillery, armor, transport, and other attached units to make them more effective in the field.

The combat team will also be bigger than a brigade, which traditionally consists of around 1,500 to 2,500 personnel.

He added these brigade combat teams are envisioned as the “quick response” units of territorial forces based in these islands.

Also on Tuesday, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said a joint sail by the Philippines and Australia would proceed as planned.

“We’re not making an announcement on when but the intention remains as the leaders announced a joint sail in the West Philippine [Sea]… in an appropriate maritime location (that) is yet to be announced,” Wong said in a press conference.

The future joint sail will come as Manila and Canberra seek increased engagements as strategic partners in the region.

Naval ships of the Philippines and the United States, meanwhile, held anti-submarine warfare (ASW) drills during the ongoing “Exercise Samasama” in the waters of Southern Luzon.

“To enhance the ASW capabilities of the participating Navy ships, an expendable mobile anti-submarine warfare training target (EMATT) was used to mimic the acoustic signature of submarines, enabling the naval forces to practice and refine their ASW tactics,” Naval Forces Southern Luzon (NFSL) public affairs office chief Lt. Kim Paulo Lopez said in a statement late Monday.

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