MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has filed a low-key diplomatic protest with China over reports that Beijing appears to have installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on the seven artificial islands in the strategically vital South China Sea, where one of islands is within the Philippines’ 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said on Monday (16 Jan) the diplomatic communication was issued after the report came out last month.
The Inquirer wrote that Yasay told CNN Philippines that Manila had responded, but in a quiet way, by a diplomatic communication that is issued in the third person and is not signed. It is considered less formal than a letter of protest.
Yasay said, “We have taken action on that, we have issued a note verbale,” though he would not say when it was issued, saying it was a matter that he did not want to discuss.
“I just want to assure the Filipino people that when we take action at engaging China in this dispute, we do not want to take such aggressive, provocative action that will not solve the problem,” he said, “We cannot engage China in a war.”
“Nevertheless, when there are reports about the build-up of weapon systems in the area, during our watch we made sure that the interests and rights of the Philippines are properly protected,” he said.
The Philippines have won a hearing in July last year, at the Permanent Court of Arbitration backed by the United Nations, by denying China’s historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea, where six countries including the Philippines have overlapping claims.
But China ignored the ruling and continued its military build-up of the strategic waterways where Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have also made territory claims.
Last week, the Philippines has also filed a diplomatic protest against China’s test flights to Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) on the Philippine side of the Spratly archipelago.
China landed three flights on the 3,125-meter-long runway of the airstrip on the artificial island it had built on Kagitingan Reef, angering Vietnam, which also claims the reef, and drawing criticism from the United States, which expressed deep concern that the landings would exacerbate tensions in the region.
Jose said the Philippines filed the diplomatic protest through a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Manila on 8 Jan, saying that China’s actions heightened tensions and anxiety in the region.
President Rodrigo Duterte has taken steps to improve the relations with China, albeit by antagonistic stance toward outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration after the U.S. leader criticized his deadly war on drugs. China has responded enthusiastically, with promises of increased trade and billions of dollars in pledges for infrastructure projects in the Philippines. It also has offered to sell weapons to the Philippines.