THE sighting of two Chinese oceanographic survey ships within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as reported by Ryan Martinson, an assistant professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute of the United States Naval War College, is a clear warning to President Rodrigo Duterte and his government that Chinese presence in our coastal waters is getting too close for comfort.
What is disturbing about this observation is that the two ships, Zhang Jian and Dong Fang Hong 3, were spotted not at the contested waters in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), where we all assume it would be, but rather in the unlikely waters of eastern and northern Philippines respectively.
But what is really unsettling, if not alarming, about the sighting reports is that both Chinese vessels have not communicated with the government authorities about their presence nor their intentions of being in the area.
If the ships are indeed used for survey/research of any kind, then the Chinese Government has the obligation to ask permission from the Philippine Government, especially that it has been found out that both vessels had been operating in the country’s EEZ.
As it is, the Chinese oceanographic survey ships arrogantly violated Article 246 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), stating that “Marine scientific research in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf shall be conducted with the consent of the coastal State.” Note that both the Philippines and China are signatories in the UNCLOS.
Following a pattern well established by the Chinese in the WPS, where they operate with impunity whenever and however it pleases them within the country’s EEZ, they also presumptuously assume that they can do the same on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
This assumption is especially anchored, and had been taken advantage of by China, considering the fact that the Philippines is inadequately capable of monitoring its territorial waters around the archipelago.
We can only thank that there is a Ryan Martinson who has been monitoring movement of Chinese ships not only in the disputed South China Sea (SCS), of which the WPS is part of, but also on the side of the Pacific Ocean, where in a series of tweets he posted photos of the ships and their track.
Thus, it is in this light that the Filipino people should feel heartened that it has finally dawned on the country’s government officials to seek help from the United States by invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by Manila and Washington in 1951 so the country can be assisted in monitoring Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ EEZ, especially in the aftermath of reports saying that Chinese warships, including its only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, passed through Sibutu Strait. without clearance.