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International relations

Philippines stops short of condemning China over bombers

Duterte government wants to safeguard improved relations with Beijing

  © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines is "taking necessary diplomatic actions" against China for deploying bombers on an island in the South China Sea, but these actions will be kept from the public to avoid harming the countries' relations, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

Now that they have a South China Sea base, Chinese bombers, including the H-6K, can more easily project military power toward the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The Philippines said it will assert sovereignty in waters that it and China dispute but stopped short of condemning China's latest action. "We reiterate our commitment to protect every single inch of our territory and areas which we have sovereign rights over," the statement says.

News of the bomber landings came over the weekend via the China Daily. The H-6K, China's most advanced bomber, is reportedly capable of launching supersonic cruise missiles against land targets and ships.

The report said the bombers made simulated strikes against sea targets before landing on an airstrip-equipped island. The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said the H-6K landed and took off from Woody Island, China's largest base in the Paracel Islands.

The Paracels sit west of the Philippines, closer to Vietnam and southeast of China's Hainan Island.

AMTI said the H-6K's upgraded combat radius of nearly 2,000 nautical miles could put all of Southeast Asia within range from Woody Island.

"Future deployments to the Big 3 in the Spratlys would bring Singapore and much of Indonesia within range of even China's lower-end bombers, while the H-6Ks could reach northern Australia or U.S. defense facilities on Guam," AMTI said.

The Philippines said it is "closely monitoring developments" in the area, but diplomatic actions against China's intrusive behavior will not be publicized.

"It is not our policy to publicize every action taken by the Philippine government whenever there are reported developments taking place in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea," the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The department noted the improved relations between China and the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte and said it will avoid steps that could undermine the situation.

"Moving forward, we are taking a different approach to avoid any drawbacks and challenges," the department said.

Duterte on Saturday said he cannot do anything to oppose China's militarization of the islands and that he would not risk deploying forces in the South China Sea. However, he said he will eventually bring up the dispute later in his term.

"What's the point of questioning whether the planes there land or not?" Duterte asked.

Under Duterte, the Philippines has allied itself with China, which has promised billions toward the Southeast Asian country's ambitious infrastructure program. The two nations are also working on a joint oil and gas exploration agreement in the South China Sea.

China's claims to the South China Sea overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Over $3 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea every year.

To bolster its claims of the key waterway, China has developed seven artificial islands and equipped them with runways, radar and communications facilities as well as other military equipment.

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