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Palace on new Chinese dredger: We need to rely on good faith

In this April 21, 2017, file photo, Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130. China on Friday, May 19, 2017, said it reached agreement with the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) on the rough outline of a legally binding code of conduct designed to prevent clashes in the strategic South China Sea. Francis Malasig/Pool Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Amid mounting suspicions that the world’s biggest and most sophisticated dredger built by China would be deployed in the South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean, Malacañang on Tuesday said the Philippines could only “rely on good faith.”

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

In a press conference, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the government’s “decision” to trust China “remains unchanged.”

Roque added that the maritime row was among the topics discussed by President Rodrigo Duterte during Monday’s joint command conference with the police and military at the Palace. He did not elaborate.

READ: Duterte may push for resource-sharing in disputed sea at ASEAN meet

“Well, the president recognizes the principle of good faith in international relations. China has told the president, they do not intend to reclaim Scarborough and we leave it at that,” Roque said.

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“We need to rely on good faith because otherwise there would be no predictability in international relations,” he added.

The Department of National Defense earlier said it is closely monitoring China’s launching of Tian Kun Hao, its biggest island-making vessel.

Described as a “magic island maker,” Tian Kun Hao has begun water tests at the coastal province of Jiangsu.

The South China Morning Post quoted maritime security experts as saying the vessel could raise concern among nations with rival claims on territories in the South China Sea since it suggests that Beijing is preparing to reassert its dominance in the disputed waters.

Meanwhile, China’s official media Xinhua quoted a Beijing-based military expert as giving assurance that “China will abide by the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea... and won’t use the dredger to expand its artificial islands.” 

“We have reports that they launched their big dredger, but we don’t know where it is going. We are constantly monitoring the movement of this ship,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“We have security there in Pag-asa, and we also have troops… in all the islands that we occupy, so we will know immediately if they are doing something there,” Lorenzana added.

READ: Military monitors deployment of Chinese dredger in South China Sea

Ties between Manila and Beijing had soured after Duterte’s predecessor filed, and won, a case in a United Nations-backed tribunal against China’s sweeping claims to over most part of the South China Sea.

The court said in 2016 that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking fishing and oil exploration as well as by building reclaimed islands there.

But Duterte set aside the ruling and sought warmer relations with Beijing in exchange for billion dollars’ worth of Chinese investments.

READ: Duterte finds no urgency in South China Sea row

Last week, the Philippine leader said he was hopeful that China would keep its promise to stop the occupation of new features in the disputed South China Sea as he reiterated anew his strategy to settle the maritime row: Don’t insult the superpowers.

“What the president has done is, that’s self-executory, what else must be done?” Roque also said in the same news briefing.

“I think, we are seeing new heights in terms of Philippine-Chinese relations and it has resulted in very tangible results particularly economic investments,” he added.

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