MANILA - Philippines-President Aquino has sounded the alarm over the presence of two new Chinese vessels near the oil-rich Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.
Citing a military report, the President called attention to the presence of the Chinese hydrographic research vessels at Recto Bank despite a Washington-backed Philippine proposal for a freeze on activities that escalate tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"What are they doing there? What studies are they conducting? I hope [their presence] will not lead to increased tension between [the Philippines and China]," Aquino told TV5, which had been airing an interview with the President in a series that started on Wednesday night. The network aired the full interview Sunday night.
"Just a reminder, Recto Bank is [144 km] from Palawan so it is clearly within our [370-km] exclusive economic zone."
But China, which claims 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, sent the ships anyway and by the Philippine military's description the vessels were surveying and charting the area.
Aquino did not say when the military spotted the vessels and when he was briefed on the matter.
But he said the incursion was the latest in what he described as China's "seasonal" attitude toward its territorial dispute with the Philippines.
"Whenever we deal with China, and with all due respect, it's like [its attitude] is seasonal," he said in Filipino.
"There's a season when China's belligerent. There's a season when it's friendly. There's a time when it goes on a charm offensive. There's a time when it doesn't," he said.
Despite the Philippines' efforts to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully, Chinese incursions into Philippine waters have not stopped, Aquino said.
He cited the presence of the two research vessels at Recto Bank as the latest case of Chinese intrusion into Philippine territory.
It was unclear when the two Chinese vessels arrived in the area, but their presence there was the first provocative act of Beijing since it rejected the US-Philippine proposal for a freeze in activities that escalate tensions in the sea, which Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario tried to push at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum (ARF) in Naypyidaw, Burma (Myanmar), last week.
The proposal was part of the Philippines' three-step plan for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The two other steps are the conclusion of a code of conduct that would prevent rival claims from erupting into conflict and the settlement of the disputes through international arbitration.