The Philippines will beef up its naval presence in the South China Sea to protect its fisherman, said the country’s military chief Cirilito Sobejana, as concerns grow after China passed a law giving power to its coastguard to fire on foreign vessels and demolish structures built in disputed waters.
The Philippines has protested against the new law, which country’s officials said would heighten risks of a miscalculation.
“We will increase our visibility through the deployment of more naval assets, but I just want to make clear our navy presence there is not (to) wage war against China but to secure our own people,” Bangkok Post quoted Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana as saying.
“That pronouncement by China that their coastguard can open fire at people intruding into their territory is very alarming,” Sobejana said on Tuesday.
Chinese coastguard ships have played a leading role in asserting China’s maritime claims, including in fishing disputes off Indonesia’s Natuna Islands and the stand-off with Vietnam over Vanguard Bank.
China claims virtually entire South China Sea, something which is contested heavily by several countries in the region. As per the report, some parts of the waters that fall within Manila’s exclusive economic zone was renamed West Philippine Sea by the Philippine government.
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.
China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing’s concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.
Beijing’s rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific.
Last month, China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, on Friday passed the coastguard law that empowers the coastguard to use “all necessary means” to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters “under China’s jurisdiction”.
It will also allow the coastguards to launch pre-emptive strikes without prior warning if commanders deem it necessary.
The SCMP reported that it is yet to ascertain whether the law will be applied to all waters claimed by Beijing, which has a number of competing claims with its neighbours in the East and South China Seas.
Under the new law, coastguard personnel can demolish structures built or installed by other countries in Chinese-claimed waters and board and inspect foreign ships in the area.