DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said China’s new law, which allows its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels in waters it is claiming, may lead to “miscalculations and accidents” in disputed areas in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana urged all the claimants to the chain of islands, islets and features in the South China Sea to exercise caution when navigating the disputed areas to avoid a possible “open conflict.”
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims in the area. The Philippines calls its claimed area as the West Philippine Sea. China is claiming almost the entire sea and has turned aggressive in its claim in the past years and has conducted land reclamation of several reefs.
“I’m very concerned about this law because it may cause some miscalculations and accidents there, especially that they (Chinese Coast Guard) are now allowed to fire at foreign vessels,” Lorenzana said.
“So I call upon all claimants there, the Chinese, Vietnamese to exercise caution and carefulness in implementing their laws,” he said.
Asked if the Philippines will consider taking part in joint patrols in the disputed waters with ally countries, including the US, Lorenzana said, “We will talk with our allies on what should should be done.”
“But the Americans even without consulting with us or the other claimants continue on patrolling the area,” Lorenzana added.
He said the Americans are “very concerned “about the creeping influence of the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea,” adding he is sure the Chinese are also concerned with the US patrols.
Britain, New Zealand, Australia and even India have manifested their willingness to join the US in patrolling the contested areas.
Lorenzana also urged Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in traditional areas in the West Philippine, saying they are not covered by the Chinese law.
“Fishermen are not armed and I advise them to continue fishing in their traditional fishing ground like Scarborough Shoal, Reed Bank and even Mischief reef,” he said.
Scarborough has been under Chinese control since 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels. Reed Bank or Recto Bank, which is very near Palawan, is unoccupied. Mischief Reef is occupied by the Chinese.
“Those are the traditional fishing ground of Filipinos so they should continue (fishing) and we will ensure that we have sufficient patrols of our Coast Guard and our Navy ships to protect them,” said Lorenzana.