President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Thursday assailed China’s ongoing “reclamation” project in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) which, he said, could only heighten tensions in the disputed territory.
“We receive many intelligence [reports]indicating that what we call rocks and features are being reclaimed to make an island. It is because an island has a right and a rock has none, pertaining to [China’s] boundaries,” the President said in an interview.
Aquino bewailed that such actions only fuel disagreement between Manila and Beijing in the light of protests filed by the former against the latter’s incursions.
“We hope that the other side will cooperate in decreasing tension rather than making it worse,” he said.
Aquino added that he was worried that the issue might spread to other countries where China has similar sea disputes, noting that it is possible that China might eventually pursue “land claims.”
“I also hope that they get a sense of focusing instead of deescalating tensions and resolution in accordance with international law and cooperation with other countries,” he said.
Aquino particularly bewailed reports that hydrographic ships were sent to Recto Bank, which is only 80 nautical miles from Palawan province.
“Recto Bank is clearly within our 200-mile exclusive economic zone,” he pointed out.
“Now the question is: What is their real objective there? What are they mapping out? Hydrographic means to determine what they call bottoms, charting the depths. But to where? They have two ships in our exclusive economic zone that only escalate tension,” the President said.
The Philippine government has filed a memorial before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), protesting China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea.
Claimant countries are also pushing for a Code of Conduct at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but since 2002, only a Declaration of Conduct has been reached, outlining general principles to resolve the disputes.
“So in these two avenues and other fora we took, we maintained that the rule of law must prevail, specifically the United Nations Convention om the Law of the Sea. In various for a, we explained our position and we continue to work to reduce tensions instead of heightening them,” Aquino said.