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DFA: China did not explain presence in Benham Rise

Acting Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo gestures as he answers questions from members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines during a meeting in Manila, Philippines Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Manalo says China remains opposed to a legally-binding code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea even as negotiations have progressed on other elements of such a code. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines — In its reply to the Philippines' note verbale seeking clarification over their presence in Benham Rise, Beijing only affirmed that they recognize Manila's sovereign rights over the undersea plateau.

China, however, did not explain the reason why they were in the area, the Philippines' top diplomat said Tuesday.

"They replied to us when we requested for this information of what they were doing. What they did reply was they recognize our sovereign rights over Benham Rise," Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said in a televised press briefing.

Manalo earlier said that the Philippines had denied previous requests of China to conduct marine research in Benham Rise due to failure to fulfill requirements.

Asked if China violated the Philippines' sovereign rights over the region by passing through Benham Rise without permission, Manalo said that Beijing might only be exercising the right of innocent passage.

"We did seek clarification. If they are there, it doesn't necessarily mean that it depends how they are there," Manalo said.

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Manalo stressed that the Phillippine government asked China to clarify their reported presence in the region but their response was that they recognize Manila's sovereign rights.

"There are certain parts for example the sea level above the extended continental shelf where ships are allowed to go there without seeking permission because this is the sea level above the extended continental shelf... within our sovereign rights so it depends really where that ship on a particular moment is," Manalo said.

"They had a very long route. We don't know exactly what some parts went through innocent passage, other parts were not so it's really very hard to really pinpoint that," the secretary said.

Manalo also explained that President Rodrigo Duterte was only taken out of context when he said that the Chinese ships were allowed to visit Benham Rise.

The president, apparently, was referring to the disputed West Philippine Sea when he said that China is welcome to visit as long as it is friendly and in accordance with the law.

RELATED: China open to joint marine research with Philippines in Benham Rise

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