The Philippines has signed an agreement to purchase a radar system from Japan for aerial surveillance of its territorial interests including in the South China Sea, the defense department announced Friday, amid rising international tensions in the disputed waterway.
Meanwhile Manila’s top diplomat said in a TV interview Friday that the government would consider following a move by the United States to blacklist Chinese businesses, if they were found to be involved in China’s militarization of the sea and building of artificial islands in the region.
In a statement Friday, the Philippine Department of Defense said the government was buying the Horizon 2 Air Surveillance Radar System from Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp., a deal worth 5.5 billion pesos (U.S. $113.5 million). Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed the agreement on Aug. 14, officials said.
The radar will cover the Philippine Rise to the east of the nation, the southern region where Islamic State-linked militants operate, as well as the “the Southern portion of the West Philippine Sea,” according to the statement. The West Philippine Sea is how the Philippines refers to the South China Sea.
“Operations from these strategically vital locations will enable the Philippine Air Force to provide optimal airspace monitoring, aircraft control, perform its air defense mission and enhance security,” the department said.
The radar would “help detect, identify and correlate any threats and intrusions within the Philippine economic zone and deliver radar images” to operating units, it added.
The defense contract was the first between the Philippines and Japan since 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte took power.
News of the deal came as Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. told CNN Philippines that he would “strongly recommend” that the government cut ties with Chinese firms sanctioned by the U.S. if it was determined they were linked to Beijing’s efforts to expand its military footprint in the South China Sea.
“If I find that any of those companies are doing business with us, then I would strongly recommend we terminate that relationship with the company,” Locsin said in the interview. “If they were in any way involved in the reclamation, then it becomes consistent on our part to terminate any contract with them.”
In March 2019, Locsin’s predecessor, Albert del Rosario, took Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly putting in place a systematic plan to control the contested waterway.
Del Rosario, who did not hold a government post when he filed his complaint, argued that China’s dredging activities to construct islands had destroyed sea life. Neither China nor the Philippines recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, which dismissed the complaint in December 2019, according to media reports.
Earlier this week, Washington said it had placed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies and individuals involved in the construction of artificial islands in the strategic waterway.
The U.S. sanctioned the China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), a massive state-owned infrastructure-building conglomerate. Last month, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell had called it out by name for its role in dredging sand to build up China’s outposts.
Other companies named were Shanghai Cable Offshore Engineering Co., and four subsidiaries of China Electronics Technology Group Corp. (CETC).
The companies were placed on the U.S. Commerce Department’s Entity List, which restricts exports to businesses abroad because of their “activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.” The placement effectively kills any ability for American businesses to trade or interact with them, officials said.
The State Department simultaneously placed visa restrictions on individuals within some of those companies, and barred them from traveling to the U.S.
Last week, Locsin’s department filed a diplomatic complaint against China for allegedly harassing Filipino patrol aircraft flying over the disputed region and for confiscating fishing devices owned by local fishermen on Scarborough Shoal, a reef claimed by both countries and that China seized during a standoff in 2012.
On Wednesday, Locsin said that the presence of U.S. forces in the region was necessary as he stressed that the Philippine military would not stop patrolling in the South China Sea, despite Beijing’s protests against what it branded as an “illegal provocation” by the Philippines.
In recent weeks, the Philippines has grown annoyed with China’s intrusions into waters that Manila claims in the maritime region, mostly by state-backed survey and research vessels.
On Aug. 10, the Philippine Navy asked both the defense and foreign affairs departments to file a diplomatic protest after two Chinese survey ships were spotted at Reed Bank, a submerged area in the Spratly Islands that is part of the Philippine continental shelf.
This came after Locsin ordered the navy to check for the survey vessels as evidence mounted that they were there and had escaped Philippine detection.
Ship-tracking data shows that another Chinese survey vessel, the Tan Suo 2, entered the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone on Aug. 25 and was in the middle of a survey off the coast of Luzon Island as of 11 a.m. Friday (Manila time).
The Tan Suo 2 is one of China’s newest survey ships, and has been operating in the South China Sea since at least June 30 according to Chinese state-media. The ship is owned and operated by Sanya-based Institute of Deep Sea Science and Engineering, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
China claims most of the mineral-rich South China Sea, including areas claimed by its smaller neighbors. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have their own claims to the region.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.