| MANILA, March 9
MANILA, March 9 The Philippine defence minister
on Thursday said he was "disturbed" by what he believes are
survey missions by Chinese ships deep into its 200 nautical mile
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in an area designated as its
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese ships had
been monitored in recent months at various locations close to
the Philippines. A warship was detected 70 miles off its Western
coast in the South China Sea and survey ships were seen at the
north and south of the eastern seaboard.
While President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently praised
China amid a warming relationship, Lorenzana has remained openly
suspicious, noting that its fortification of manmade islands
inside the Philippine EEZ has continued.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which
about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam
also have claims.
Lorenzana said that satellite imagery provided by allies had
tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham
Rise, a vast area declared by the United Nations as part of the
Philippines' continental shelf.
"I am disturbed by China's presence there, it is annoying if
they will claim the area," he told Reuters.
Lorenzana earlier gave a presentation to media showing where
Chinese vessels had been and said he was suspicious of its
activities to the east, because China had never laid claim to
He told reporters he had received information suggesting
China may have been surveying water depths to prepare submarine
routes to the Pacific. He has told the navy to intercept vessels
if they return.
The reported Chinese activity comes as the two countries
seek to forge closer trade and investment ties under Duterte
after years of bickering and mistrust, mostly over the South
The Philippine finance ministry issued a statement on
Thursday lauding the two countries' moves to fast-track big
infrastructure projects to completion within three years.
The Philippines won an international arbitration award last
year that invalidated China's claims to sovereignty over almost
the entire South China Sea. Instead of pressing China to comply,
Duterte has chosen to tap Beijing for business, and has promised
to deal with the maritime dispute later.
Lorenzana voiced frustration on Thursday that since Duterte
took office eight months ago, the Philippines had submitted
about a dozen requests to the Chinese embassy to explain its
maritime activities, but each time it had denied they had taken
Asked about activities of the survey ships Lorenzana had
referred to, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said
he was unaware of the report.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by
Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)