The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will study what steps to take regarding the reported military drill of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo said Thursday.

In an ambush interview on the sidelines of his bilateral meeting with visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjárto on Thursday, Manalo said the DFA would have to see the “exact nature” of these exercises and did not further comment when asked if this could be classified as a provocation.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had earlier reported an increase in the sightings of Chinese warships in the West Philippine Sea and revealed that it has monitored for the “first time” an exercise being conducted by the PLA Navy in the vicinity of Sabina Shoal from June 2 to 4.

The drills included the launching and recovery of aircraft and hovercrafts that involved one PLA Navy ship and two Chinese Coast Guard in the vicinity.

Pressed if he was alarmed by this, Manalo answered diplomatically.

“As we’ve always said, we want to manage it (the situation) peacefully and that if there is any incident that raises tension, that certainly is something that we would like to avoid,” he said.

“We say it’s really important to see how we can manage that and to avoid actions that would tend to raise tensions,” he added.

Manalo during his meeting with Szijjárto discussed the current situation in the South China Sea, which had been marked by several instances of Chinese coast guard ships bombarding Filipino vessels with water cannon.

He said both he and the Hungarian top diplomat talked about the importance of a rules-based order.

“I highlighted that any efforts towards peace and stability in the South China Sea must be anchored on international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award, and must respect the legitimate interests and legally settled rights of every state,” he said. (PNA)