China’s recent installation of weapons on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea was “very troubling”, the Philippines’ defence minister said on Tuesday, after Manila quietly protested against Beijing’s activities.
The Philippine foreign ministry sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy last month after confirming a report from the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies about China’s arms buildup in the Spratlys.
“The actions of China in militarising those disputed features are very troubling,” Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
“They do not square with the Chinese government’s rhetoric that its purpose is peaceful and friendly.” Lorenzana took a stronger line than Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, who refrained on Tuesday from criticising China, but said the issue had to be handled carefully and the public should know “we are not sleeping on the job”.
“When something happens that can pose us some kind of threats to our sovereignty rights we issue a note verbale so we can talk about it and make sure it is properly addressed,” he told ANC television.
With billions of dollars of potential Chinese trade and investment at stake, the Philippines has a difficult balancing act in upholding its sovereignty claims while staying on the better terms President Rodrigo Duterte has established with historic rival China.