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World | National

Aquino says China's aircraft carrier no threat but DFA chief worries Beijing seeking air supremacy

The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 3:34 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday said the presence of China's sole aircraft carrier in the South China Sea should not be seen as a threat.

Despite Aquino's opinion, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario expressed concern China may seek control of air space over contested areas of the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, after Beijing declared an air defense zone above other disputed waters.

On Wednesday Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez had said the deployment of the Liaoning "raises tensions and violates the Declaration on the Code of Conduct" in the South China Sea.

"Let’s not play it up. I think the Chinese themselves have admitted that this (Liaoning) is not yet fully operational. They are still learning carrier operations - both the crew on board the planes and also the pilots who will be flying the planes," Aquino said in an interview in Bohol aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.

"So they are transitting here, and because they are not yet operational, why should anybody consider it a threat?" the President said.

Aquino said that if foreign vessels enter Philippine territorial water, which is about 12 nautical miles from the country's baselines, they have to secure permission from the Philippine government.

"Beyond that, there is a right of innocent passage guaranteed to all nationalities," the President said.

The Liaoning departed Tuesday from its home port in the northern city of Qingdao, accompanied by two destroyers and a missile cruiser.

Chinese naval officials described the carrier's mission as routine, saying it will conduct scientific research, tests, and military drills.

But interviewed over ABS-CBN, Del Rosario said, "There's this threat that China will control the air space (in the South China Sea)."

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the strategically vital and potentially resource-rich body of water.

Del Rosario also voiced concern over China's declaration of the air defense zone in the East China Sea, where it is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.

"It transforms an entire air zone into China's domestic air space. And that is an infringement, and compromises the safety of civil aviation," del Rosario said. "It also compromises the national security of affected states."

The air defense zone requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face "emergency defensive measures."

The zone covers Tokyo-controlled islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other.