Mar 282015

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has dismissed China’s criticism of its plan to repair military facilities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying it has sovereign rights over territories in the disputed areas.

The Philippines’ activities are “in no way comparable to China’s massive reclamation activities” in the waters, said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Charles Jose.

Jose said accusations that the Philippines was being “hypocritical” would not detract from Beijing’s own actions which are raising regional tensions.

The statement by Jose was the latest volley in an increasingly tense war of words over the sea, parts of which are claimed by both countries as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“The Philippines’ possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea… is in no way comparable to China’s massive reclamation activities which not only violate international law… but also unnecessarily raise tensions,” Jose said.

West Philippine Sea is the name the Philippines has given to that portion of the South China Sea where Filipino troops and civilians occupy some islands.

Most vocal in criticizing China

The Philippines has recently been among the most vocal in criticizing China’s development of isolated outcroppings in the waters into large facilities capable of hosting bases and even airstrips.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines would resume its own construction of facilities in the sea, prompting Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying to denounce his remarks on Friday.

“This does not only violate China’s territorial sovereignty but also reveals [the Philippines’] hypocritical nature,” Hua had said.

In response, Jose said: “China’s recent statement… should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea which are China’s illegitimate nine-dash line claim and China’s unilateral and aggressive behavior in asserting that claim as exemplified by its massive and unrestrained reclamation.”

Reacting to the controversy, President Aquino affirmed his support for Del Rosario, his deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday.

Valte said that any repairs of Philippine facilities would not violate the Declaration on the Code of Conduct forged between China and Southeast Asian countries in 2002. The non-binding accord is intended to avoid raising tensions in the disputed territory.

Valte stressed that the Philippines had made its position clear in a challenge it had filed before a United Nations tribunal in March 2014 to declare what it said was China’s claim to 70 percent of the sea as illegal.

The Philippines has also filed numerous diplomatic protests against what it calls China’s efforts to assert its claims to the territory shown on several Chinese maps.

Mall-like structures

The Philippines halted activities last year over concerns about its effect on its arbitration complaint against China. The UN tribunal is due to rule early next year on the Philippines’ challenge to China’s claims.

Last October, the Philippines called on all claimant-states to stop construction work on small islands and reefs in the South China Sea. China itself is undertaking massive reclamation work in the area while Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been improving their facilities.

The DFA earlier called on the international community to urge China to stop its reclamation work in the Philippine-claimed areas which, according to reports, covered 60 hectares. Big structures described by officials as “mall-like” were being built.

Philippine officials are worried that China’s unilateral actions would change the status quo, that is, alter the physical characteristics of the disputed islets and atolls and advance Beijing’s nine-dash line claim before the UN tribunal comes out with a decision on the Philippine challenge. AFP, with Niña P. Calleja

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