MANILA • The Philippine defence minister yesterday said he was "disturbed" by what he believes are survey missions by Chinese ships deep into the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and in an area designated as its continental shelf.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese ships had been monitored in recent months at various locations close to the Philippines. A warship was detected 112km off its western coast in the South China Sea, and survey ships were seen at the north and south of the eastern seaboard.
He said satellite imagery provided by allies had tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham Rise, a vast area declared by the United Nations as part of the Philippines' continental shelf.
"I am disturbed by China's presence there," he added.
Mr Lorenzana earlier gave a presentation to the media showing where Chinese vessels had been and said he was suspicious of China's activities to the east, because it had never laid claim to those waters. He told reporters he had received information suggesting China may have been surveying water depths to prepare submarine routes to the Pacific.
He has told the navy to intercept the vessels if they return.
The reported Chinese activity comes as the two countries seek to forge closer trade and investment ties under President Roderigo Duterte after years of bickering and mistrust over the South China Sea.
Mr Lorenzana voiced frustration yesterday that since Mr Duterte took office eight months ago, the Philippines had submitted about a dozen requests to the Chinese Embassy to explain its maritime activities, but each time it had denied they had taken place.
Asked about activities of the survey ships Mr Lorenzana had referred to, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was unaware of the report.