Philippines to keep flying planes over disputed isles

Aquino expresses confidence China will show restraint

THE Philippines will continue to fly its military and commercial planes over disputed areas in the South China Sea, defying China's warnings over the airspace.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters yesterday that there is no "air defence identification zone" (ADIZ) declared in the South China Sea, and "we will still fly the routes that we fly, based on international law".

China has been aggressively challenging flights by both the Philippines and the United States over a chain of rapidly expanding islands it is building in the South China Sea.

Last week, the Chinese military warned at least eight times an American P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane that swooped over three of these reefs.

Since April 19 this year, China has been driving away Philippine planes flying over a Chinese-held reef that sits just 24km away from a Philippine-held islet.

Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez, head of the Philippine military's Western Command, said there have been at least seven such incidents.

This ongoing tussle over airspace comes as the US considers using aircraft, including navy planes, to directly contest Chinese territorial claims over nearly all of the South China Sea.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Mr Aquino expressed confidence that China would exercise restraint.

"We would not want to think that one nation will single us out, because it has yet to declare an ADIZ covering routes that our carriers use," he said yesterday.

He expects China to also weigh the ramifications of using force to enforce no-fly zones in the South China Sea.

"The disparity of force or available military force between our two countries is very clear. Will they not take that into consideration, especially if they want to maintain a positive image with the rest of the world?" he said.

In a separate news briefing, Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he would meet his US counterpart Ashton Carter tomorrow.

"We will ask how far they can help us, what they can do, how they can help. Right now, we are the one being pushed around," he told reporters at a Philippine naval base in Cavite province, south of the capital Manila.

"We are concerned that even US planes flying out over international territories are being challenged. (China) is unilaterally exerting control over airspace."

Mr Gazmin said he will meet Mr Carter in Hawaii during the handover of the US Pacific Command from Admiral Samuel Locklear to Admiral Harry Harris.

Adm Locklear had warned that China could gain "de facto control of some of the world's most important waterways" with its "astonishing" island-building programme.

He said China could install long-range detection radars and base warships and warplanes on the islands, potentially giving it the ability to declare an ADIZ.

Next week, Mr Gazmin will join Mr Aquino on a visit to Tokyo to discuss the rising tension in the South China Sea.

rdancel@sph.com.sg