AFP downplays China’s live fire drills in South China Sea

MANILA — The Philippine military said it is not threatened with China’s live firing drills in the South China Sea, saying it is their right as a sovereign nation.

“We’re not threatened at all because it’s in international waters… We see it as the right of any sovereign nation,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.

China held air and sea drills in the disputed seas amid its sweepings claims in the entire disputed sea. Chinese state media reported that the exercise involved at least 100 naval assets, dozens of aircraft, and information war troops.

It did not say the exact location of the drills in the South China Sea, however.

“It’s the right of any sovereign nation to conduct any kind of exercises that they think are relevant to their own security interest,” Padilla said.

China, meanwhile, strongly opposed the military exercises the Philippines held with China and Japan last month.

“Any kind of military exercise is always subject to the interpretation of an outsider. An outsider who is biased against that country can initiate negative comments but from our perspective that being their right, they can do it. Just as long as they are not intruding,” Padilla said.

He added that they are able to monitor if China will hold the drills within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Padilla, however, also appealed that China should be transparent in its military exercises.

“We have been very transparent whenever we have exercises we tried to invite observers… to say and indicate that what we are doing is aboveboard and that we are not threatening anyone. In the case of China, everybody in the region, the US included, is encouraging them to be transparent so that all of their motives, all of their activities will not be questioned,” he said.

China has been increasingly assertive in its claims in the South China Sea and has built artificial islands in recent months. Three of those seven artificial islands are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is planning to increase its defense budget for 2016.