AFP unable to confirm presence of Chinese ships near Palawan

AHEAD OF BALIKATAN 2024

AFP unable to validate alleged Chinese militia ships near Palawan

By: - Reporter /
/ 01:35 PM April 22, 2024

Marvin Licudine

Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (L) and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (R) unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at the military headquarters in Quezon City, suburban Manila on April 22, 2024. AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said that it “cannot confirm or deny” the alleged presence of two Chinese maritime militia ships reportedly spotted some 30 nautical miles (nm) from Palawan’s coastline on Sunday.

In a press conference after the opening ceremony of this year’s Balikatan exercise, Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, exercise director, said he could not validate the report posted by American maritime expert Ray Powell on Sunday.

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READ: 2 Chinese vessels seen near Palawan a day before Balikatan

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“As to that report, I cannot confirm or deny it. Surely I would say that we would expect some presence of the Chinese side because they have built their structures in these areas,” Licudine said on Monday when asked if the presence of Chinese vessels might have something to do with the war games between the Philippines and the United States.

Powell revealed on X (formerly Twitter) that the Chinese vessels spotted near Palawan “have turned back in the direction of Mischief Reef after loitering just outside the Philippines 24 nm contiguous zone.”

“I still have no context for what’s behind this aggression,” Powell, who leads Project Myoushu (South China Sea) at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University, said.

“Very odd behavior. Perhaps intended to send a message at the beginning of the Balikatan exercise?” he added.

READ: Philippines, US launch annual Balikatan war games

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Licudine, however, pointed out that Chinese maritime militias have always been present in the South China Sea since the territorial conflict between China and the Philippines started.

“The Chinese maritime militia has always been in the South China Sea ever since the misunderstanding between these areas (China and Philippines) started,” the exercise director said.

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Earlier, AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla clarified that the exercise is “an annual event” only aimed at “strengthening defense capabilities and alliances” even with increased Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

“While we remain vigilant in the face of regional challenges, the exercise is not explicitly tied to any particular country’s actions. Its primary objective is to enhance collective security and readiness among participating nations,” the AFP spokesperson said.

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TAGS: Balikatan, China, Palawan, Philippines, US

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