PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said he would send a diplomatic note to China to clarify its report denying that one of its coast guard vessels took by force a rocket debris that was being towed by a Philippine Navy ship in the South China Sea.
“Yes, I think that’s what we need to do,” he told reporters.
It was National Secretary Adviser Secretary Clarita A. Carlo who recommended sending China a note verbale regarding the incident, the Office of the Press Secretary said in a press release.
“We have to ask the Chinese why their account is so different, much more benign, than the word ‘forcibly’ in the initial report of the Philippine Navy,” Mr. Marcos told reporters.
“We’ll have to find a way to resolve this,” he said.
“These are the things that we need to work out because with the way that the region, our region, Asia-Pacific is heating up, someone might make a mistake, cause a misunderstanding, then the fire would escalate,” Mr. Marcos said in a mix of English and Filipino, noting that he will visit China in January.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular briefing on Monday that the incident actually involved a “friendly negotiation.”
“People from the Philippines side salvaged and towed the floating object first. After both sides had a friendly negotiation at the scene, the Philippines handed over the floating object to us,” Ms. Mao said.
She said the object was debris from a rocket’s payload fairing — casing that protects the nose-cone of a spacecraft — launched by China.
“It was not a situation in which we waylaid and grabbed the object,” Ms. Mao said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila also released a statement late Monday denying that the incident was adversarial.
“Relevant reports are inconsistent with facts,” the embassy said, citing the Chinese ministry spokesperson.
“There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene.”
It clarified that the Chinese side conducted a “friendly consultation” with the Philippine Navy after finding that the floating object had already been retrieved and towed.
“After friendly consultation the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side on the spot,” it said. “The Chinese side expressed gratitude to the Philippine side.”
Vice Admiral Alberto B. Carlos, commander of the Philippine Navy’s Western Command, said in a statement they sent a vessel to examine the object after it was spotted early on Sunday about 730 meters west of Thitu island.
A navy team tied the object to their boat and started towing it before the Chinese vessel approached and blocked their course twice before deploying an inflatable boat that cut the tow line, then took the object back to the coast guard ship, Mr. Carlos said.
The incident occurred as United States Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday for talks aimed at reviving ties with the Asian ally that is central to US efforts to counter China’s increasingly assertive policies towards Taiwan.
Ms. Harris, whose three-day trip includes a stop on Palawan, an island on the edge of the South China Sea, will also reaffirm US support for a 2016 international tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claim in the disputed waterway, a senior US official said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, and Reuters