The Philippine foreign and defense chiefs will discuss with their American counterparts ways to address new security concerns arising from China’s completion of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, an official said Monday.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the Philippines will ask the United States to continue patrols to ensure freedom of navigation in the area, a strategic passageway for many commercial and military ships, during Tuesday’s talks in Washington.
The possibility of joint patrols by the U.S. and its Asian security allies may also be discussed, he said.
Recent Chinese flights to test a runway on one of the seven man-made islands, Fiery Cross, have raised concerns that Beijing may plan to impose an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea, officially or otherwise, Jose said.
Vietnam and the Philippines opposed the Chinese flights.
“They can declare it officially or we may witness a de facto ADIZ,” Jose said by telephone. “There’s a need, therefore, to take actions showing that we won’t recognize any such imposition.”
In 2013, China declared such an aviation security buffer zone over the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo have been contesting ownership of a chain of uninhabited islands. The U.S. and its allies led by Japan protested the action and announced they would not recognize the Chinese defense zone.
In the South China Sea, Beijing shooed away U.S. and Philippine planes even while it was building the islands from previously submerged reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands, indicating its intention to control access to the region, Philippine diplomats said.
The U.S. sent a guided-missile destroyer close to one of the Chinese-built islands, called Subi Reef, in October in one of its boldest challenges yet to Beijing’s territorial claims, sparking warnings from China. U.S. officials vowed to continue maneuvers to protect freedom of navigation and overflight.
China has said it built the islands primarily to foster safe civilian sea travel and fishing but added they may also be used militarily.
Analysts say the new islands will give Beijing a much stronger security grip over a vast stretch of the South China Sea farthest from the Chinese mainland, in an area where Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia have stationed forces on islands and reefs which China also claims.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also plan to discuss further U.S. help in strengthening the Philippine military’s capability for territorial defense in their talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Jose said.
The high-level foreign and defense meeting was first held in 2012 and is being resumed this year as the treaty allies mark 70 years of diplomatic ties.