Philippines vows to continue maritime exercises in South China Sea

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard use rubber boats as they patrol at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea on April 14, 2021. - AP

MANILA (Reuters): The Philippines will continue maritime exercises inside its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, the country's defence minister said on Sunday (May 2), despite a call by China to stop actions that it said could escalate disputes.

The Philippine coastguard and fisheries bureau started maritime exercises last month, having boosted its presence in the area to counter the "threatening" presence of Chinese boats.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$3 trillion worth of ship borne trade passes each year, despite a 2016 ruling by an arbitration tribunal in The Hague that Beijing's claim was inconsistent with international law.

"The conduct of maritime patrol in the WPS (West Philippine Sea) and Kalayaan Island Group by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will continue," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement, using the local name for the South China Sea.

"The government will not waver in its position," he said.

The lingering presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in the Philippines' EEZ has revived tensions between the countries, despite President Rodrigo Duterte's friendship with Beijing.

Lorenzana said his comments echoed the stance of Duterte on the issue, citing the latter's "very firm and straightforward" orders for the Philippine military to "defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas".

While Duterte still considers China as "a good friend", the Philippine leader last week said: "There are things that are not really subject to a compromise... I hope they will understand but I have the interest of my country also to protect."

Lorenzana said the Philippines "can be cordial and cooperative with other nations but not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights".

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