BEIJING - China's military accused the Philippines of trying to "rope in" other countries to the dispute over ownership of the South China Sea and stir regional tension after Japan joined a military drill with the Philippines.
According to Japanese and Philippine officials, a Japanese P-3C Orion surveillance plane, with three Filipino guest crew members, this week flew at 1,524m above the edge of Reed Bank, an energy- rich area that is claimed by both China and the Philippines. It was accompanied by a smaller Philippine patrol aircraft.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, asked about the exercises, said that bilateral military cooperation between countries should benefit regional peace and security and not harm the interests of third parties.
"Certain countries are roping in countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea issue, putting on a big show of force, deliberately exaggerating the tense atmosphere in the region," he told a monthly news briefing yesterday
"This way of doing things will not have a beneficial effect on the situation in the South China Sea."
Following the joint exercises, the Philippines said yesterday it wants to acquire defence equipment from Japan.
"Yes, we are interested in getting a P-3 (Orion plane)," Defence Ministry spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters. "Naturally, we are looking if it will become an excess defence article, then we can get it at a very low price," he added without giving further details.
The exercises by Japan and the Philippines come as Manila conducts separate drills with the US military that began last week.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) in ship- borne trade passes every year. Japan worries that China's domination in the region would isolate it.
Tokyo is also locked in a dispute with Beijing over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. But China and Japan have been gradually rebuilding ties after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held ice-breaking talks in Beijing last year.
Mr Yang said that China and Japan resumed discussions last week about setting up an air and maritime communication mechanism, designed to reduce the risk of accidents and misunderstandings.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE