South China Sea tensions: China warned over provoking fresh aggression in disputed waters

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Mr Bacordo said at times the Chinese navy seemed to be attempting to provoke the Philippines’ navy into aggression. He said the Chinese ships were near the Reed Bank for “about a week already” on Monday. He added that their speed of “about three knots” led Philippines’ navy to conclude they were “conducting surveys”.

Mr Bacordo said the navy has reported the incident to the Armed Forces Chief and the Department of National Defence and have requested the filing of a diplomatic protest.

He added: “We have checked if they have clearance to be there. We found out there is none.”

The Reed Bank is an energy-rich and contested area in the South China Sea.

The Philippines have said the area is in its exclusive economic zone which was backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

But China has continued to challenge economic rights to the area in the South China Sea.

The Reed Bank is located 85 nautical miles from Philippines’ Palawan Island and 595 nautical miles from China’s Hainan province coast.

This comes a day after Philippines’ Foreign Secretary said all foreign surveys in the area had been stopped.

Teodoro Locsin Jnr said: “As far as I know we’ve stopped all marine surveys by foreign ships.”

He added that the surveys had been stopped because the mandatory Filipino crews on the foreign ships were treated “like mushrooms” who were “kept in the dark”.

Mr Bacordo explained how despite the Philippines’ stance Chinese navy, coastguard and fishing ships were loitering within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

He said that soon after he became the navy chief in February a Chinese navy ship “pinged” a Philippine navy ship.

It reportedly bounced a fire control radar pulse off the corvette Conrado Yap.

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The navy chief said: “The commanding officer took precautionary measures to defend themselves.”

Manila filed a diplomatic protest after the incident.

Mr Bacordo said: “The way I analyse it, in our dispute in that area, the first one to fire the shot becomes the loser.

“So they will do everything for us to take aggressive action. But we have to be patient with that.

“I’m sure they want us to take the first shot but we will not.

“Any navy who fires the first shot in that area will lose international support. That includes all the navies patrolling in that area.

He added: “We have to exercise maximum tolerance.

“There are some activities that once you do it, you can no longer take it back, and that is firing the first shot.”

Mr Bacordo opposed the belief that diplomatic protest over China’s actions in the area were futile.

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