MANILA (Reuters) – Two Chinese navy ships followed Philippine and U.S. ships conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, the Philippine military said on Thursday, as tensions flare in the region over disputed territorial claims .
“We confirm the remote presence of two PLA-N (People’s Liberation Army Navy) ships that are following the participants in the maritime cooperation activity,” said Xerxes Trinidad, head of the public affairs office of the Philippine Army.
The two-day maritime exercises involving Manila and Washington, which concluded as planned on Thursday, were the second in less than two months in the West Philippine Sea – what Manila calls the waters of the South China Sea lying within its zone 200 nautical miles. exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The activities followed Beijing’s warning to the Philippines that any miscalculation in the escalation of the South China Sea dispute would bring a resolute response.
“We hope that China and other foreign countries will respect our sovereignty and our right to carry out activities in accordance with international law,” Trinidad said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila had no immediate comment.
The joint patrols were underway when the Chinese military announced it would conduct routine patrols with its naval and air forces in the South China Sea from Wednesday to Thursday, but did not specify where exactly those patrols would take place.
Beijing and Manila have traded accusations in recent months over several skirmishes in the South China Sea, including accusations that China rammed a ship carrying the chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces last month.
The Philippine military said Wednesday that its second joint patrol this week involved four Philippine Navy ships and four ships from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, including an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and two destroyers.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a channel for more than $3 trillion in annual ship-borne trade, including waters claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration said in 2016 that China’s claims had no legal basis, but China rejected the ruling.
(Reporting by Karen Lema and Mikhail Flores, editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)
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