President Rodrigo Duterte won’t stop China from what he described was a patrolling activity in Sandy Cay near the Pag-asa island in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) that is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The President made the decision in connection with a warning made by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that China has been invading Sandy Cay–a sandbar located between Pag-asa island and the Subi Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
“Our Navy is also there, fronting them. Why would I do that [filing of diplomatic protest]? It’s a sandbar. They [Chinese] don’t occupy it,” Duterte said.
“I have China’s assurance that they won’t occupy anything [in the West Philippine Sea]. I believe them. If they
break our agreement, then I won’t believe them anymore,” he added.
Carpio said there are two Chinese frigates, a Coast Guard vessel and two military fishing boats seen around Sandy Cay.
Just less than a week ago, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi said China has stopped its reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea and the rest of the South China Sea islands claimed by various countries.
But satellite pictures provided by the Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed continued reclamation activities by China.
China claims the entire South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line theory.
A UN court, however, declared that Filipino fishermen should enjoy fishing rights at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are all within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Pag-asa island or Thitu island is part of the Spratly Islands.
On Sunday night, Duterte echoed Cayetano’s statement on the reclamation stoppage despite being informed about the satellite images.
“China assured me that they would not be building anything there. They are just patrolling there. Why? Because we are friends. But they are not claiming anything. I was assured by the Chinese Ambassador and the Foreign Minister,” the President said.
Duterte maintained that Chinese fishing boats are not preventing Philippine fishing boats from fishing in the area.
He, however, conceded that the sandbar was a result of construction activities of the Chinese.
The Asean has an existing Declaration of Conduct (DOC) on the South China Sea inked in 2002.
The DOC provides that parties should “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
It, however, did not prevent Chinese incursions because the declaration is a non-binding pact.