MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government on Monday summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest what it said was the “illegal incursion” of a Chinese navy ship into the country’s waters and to demand that Beijing order its ships to respect the country’s territory and follow international law, officials said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said a reconnaissance ship of China's People’s Liberation Army crossed into the Sulu Sea and cruised off the western Palawan and nearby Mindoro provinces from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 without permission and in violation of Philippine sovereignty.
Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro summoned Beijing's envoy Huang Xilian and “demanded that China respect Philippine territory and maritime jurisdiction and to comply with its obligations under international law,” the department said in a statement.
It added that Lazaro asked China to “direct its vessels to desist from entering Philippine waters uninvited and without permission.”
A Philippine navy ship repeatedly ordered the Chinese vessel to leave the country’s waters immediately but the vessel responded that it was exercising “innocent passage," a claim which the Philippine government disputed.
The Chinese vessel "did not follow a track that can be considered as continuous and expeditious, lingering in the Sulu Sea for three days,” the foreign affairs department said.
Foreign ships can be allowed to pass through archipelagic and territorial waters of another country under certain restrictions — including that they should not carry out fishing, surveillance and research without a permit or conduct any activity that can undermine the security of the coastal state.
Chinese embassy officials did not immediately react to the Philippine government statement.
The incident sparked a higher level of alarm because it happened within the country’s territory and not in the disputed South China Sea, where China, the Philippines and four other governments have had territorial disputes for decades, a military official said.
The Chinese navy ship may have been shadowing an American military ship, which was maneuvering off Palawan at the time as part of a government-authorized exercise with Philippine marines, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the sensitive issue publicly.
The Philippine navy ship approached as close as 1 nautical mile (1.8 kilometers) from the Chinese navy ship to monitor its movement until it moved away, the official said.