Philippine Defense Dept. to resume resupply flights to disputed South China Sea islands

Philippine defense officials say the government will resume resupply missions to the embattled South China Sea islands this weekend, after maintenance and personnel shortages caused flights from Manila to be grounded until at least June 30.

Hundreds of Filipino sailors and pilots flew more than 20 missions over the weekend to deliver food and other supplies. The country’s key weapons and warplanes, however, continue to be grounded.

Philippine and Chinese officials signed an agreement on Monday to allow the resumption of the flights after nine of China’s five artificial islands were signed off on by a Philippine court, Reuters reported.

The Philippines had to get special permission from its neighbors to fly over three Chinese-controlled islands.

China’s government insists the island constructions have nothing to do with territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese officials had assured him that they did not intend to bolster the sovereignty of the islands beyond the islands in recent years as previously believed.

“We’re very thankful. Now the government can resume its aerial resupply to the islands, which are now known as Huangyan Island,” said Lorenzana, according to Reuters.

Lorenzana said the resumption of resupply flights would not put the other nations to risk and that Filipinos had done “a commendable job.”

While long hailed as a successful model for the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes, the Philippines has recently accused China of violating another treaty that covers the waters.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is courting Beijing as part of a strategic shift of trade and investments, said on Monday that China’s suspension of Filipino ships from the contested Scarborough Shoal and the razing of an artificial island in the Spratly islands also signaled that Beijing was only concerned with its own rights.

Duterte’s announcement comes a day after the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam accused China of scrapping a deal to allow about 900 Filipino fishermen access to waters in the disputed Spratly Islands for another year.

Meanwhile, a top Chinese official with the Cyberspace Administration of China said the deals with Philippine authorities would still be in effect even after China’s ruling was issued, according to the Reuters report.

“This means that our stability in the South China Sea has not changed,” Li Jiaxiang told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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