Philippines says won't protest China actions in Spratly Islands

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines would not protest China’s moves to militarize its man-made islands in the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said on Friday, amid Manila’s efforts to improve ties with Beijing.

FILE PHOTO - Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy patrol near a sign in the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands, February 9, 2016. The sign reads 'Nansha is our national land, sacred and inviolable.' REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

China has deployed anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on the artificial islets it has built in the disputed Spratly Islands, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in findings reported by Reuters this week.

Speaking to reporters in Singapore during an official visit by President Rodrigo Duterte, Yasay said the government will not issue any diplomatic protest to China via a “note verbale”.

“We will make sure that there will be no further actions that will heighten the tensions between the two countries, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal,” Yasay said, referring to another group of disputed islets.

“Let them take whatever action is necessary in the pursuit of their national interest... and we will leave it at that, for the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China,” he said, adding that other countries could deal with any issues.

Whereas the Scarborough Shoal was disputed solely by China and the Philippines, several countries, including China and the Philippines, have rival claims in the Spratly Islands.

Since his election six months ago, President Duterte has sought to strengthen previously strained relations with Beijing, while cooling ties with long-time ally, the United States.

Yasay’s remarks contrast with those of Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana, who on Thursday described China’s latest actions in the Spratly Islands as a “big concern” for the international community .

Every year, about $5 trillion worth of maritime trade passes through the sea, which is believed to hold deposits of oil and gas.

Aside from China and the Philippines other countries with maritime claims in the sea include Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“We cannot stop China... there is nothing that we can do about that now,” Yasay said, adding improving relations with Beijing had paid off because Filipino fishermen can now fish around Scarborough Shoal.

In Manila, coast guard officials from the Philippines and China concluded two-day of talks to draw up an action plan to cooperate in fishing, environmental protection and humanitarian assistance in the South China Sea.

Coast guard spokesman, Commander Armand Balilo, said the two sides also discussed joint law enforcement operations as well as adopting a set of protocols to avoid accidents.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore