Not Innocent Passage: Chinese Ship Was Spying on Filipino and Americans' War Games

There's nothing innocent when you sail and linger within a country's internal waters.
IMAGE GOOGLE EARTH

On January 29 to February 1, Philippine authorities discovered the presence of a Chinese spy ship lingering in the Cuyo archipelago in the Sulu Sea, just off the main island of Palawan.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) described the incident as “illegal intrusion and lingering presence” in Philippine waters, and summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to explain.

A Chinese Diongdao Class Spy Ship Similar to the One Found in Palawan

Photo by CHINESE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, JOINT STAFF OFFICE.

Xilian maintained the Chinese ship was abiding by international law and exercising innocent passage. 

In international law, “Innocent Passage” means sailing through a country’s territorial waters as expeditiously as possible, taking the most direct route between two points. 

But the Chinese spy ship was not in fact within Philippine territorial waters where the country exercises limited sovereign rights. The ship was found inside the Sulu Sea and within the internal waters of the Philippines, in which the country exercises full sovereignty. No ship is allowed to enter here without permission, just as no foreign warship is allowed to sail within the country’s lakes and rivers. 

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China Was Spying on U.S.-Philippines War Games

The Chinese spy ship, classified as a Dongdiao-class reconnaissance ship, was spying on Filipinos and Americans conducting war games during the same period it was found in Palawan from January 29 to February 1, military sources told the Inquirer

The war games were dubbed Marex 22, which involved amphibious assault training, troop landings, and interoperability exercises meant to enhance the U.S. and the Philippines’ response to natural disasters and security issues. It was held from January 27 to February 2. 

The Inquirer reported that the Chinese spy ship entered through the Balabac Strait from the southern tip of Palawan. 

The BRP Antonio Luna, sistership of the country’s flagship BRP Jose Rizal, was sent to challenge the spy ship that illegally entered Philippine internal waters. The Chinese spy ship reportedly replied that it was exercising innocent passage. 






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