Noy: China ‘reclamation ships’ in 2 other reefs

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Chinese have expanded their activities in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, possibly including reclaiming land on Gavin Reef and Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands, President Aquino said yesterday.

Aquino made the revelation when asked about the status of the ongoing reclamation work by the Chinese on Mabini Reef, which he first mentioned in Myanmar at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit in May.

“We are again bothered that there seems to be developments in other areas within the disputed seas. Amongst them there seems to be movement of ships,” Aquino said in an ambush interview with reporters on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on disaster risk reduction and management in Manila. Some of the ships, he said, were capable of undertaking reclamation functions.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Manila would definitely file a protest if the reports turn out to be true.

“Well, we’re not saying that they are exactly the same ships that were used in Mabini, but there seems to be similar ships at the very least,” Aquino said. Cuarteron is called Calderon Reef by the Philippines.

“The pictures that I saw were just ships that can be used for reclamation… unlike in Mabini where from really nothing, a geographical feature now exists,” he said.

Photos of Chinese activities on Mabini Reef showed the stages of reclamation and construction, first monitored by the Philippines in February.

The Department of Foreign Affairs released the photos on May 15 and described China’s actions as “destabilizing.”

Manila is contesting China’s claim to nearly the entire West Philippine Sea and South China Sea before a United Nations arbitral tribunal based in The Hague. As required by the arbitral court, Manila submitted a memorial or written argument of its position against Beijing’s claim.

On Tuesday, China rejected the tribunal’s directive that it submit by Dec. 15 evidence to support its position.

Aquino said that while he cannot speak for China on how the latter should respond to the tribunal’s order, countries are expected to conform to international accords.

He also declined to speculate on the implications of China’s snub of the directive from the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Aquino said a UN decision would clarify the rights and obligations of every country.

“And if they are responsible, and they always say they are a responsible member of the international community, one would hope that they would conform to all the treaties, covenants and agreements that they have entered into, not just with us but with so many other countries, especially UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) where there are many signatories,” Aquino said.

Asked about China’s refusal to participate in the UN proceedings, Aquino said it was up to China to explain.

“I am not the spokesman for China,” he said.

He stressed that the country’s seeking UN help was made in consultation with leaders of Congress – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Aquino said a UN ruling is needed because China is insisting on the “indisputable fact of their unquestioned sovereignty.”

“The arbitral track is one of the solutions because both of us and others have said let us conform to international law. So that is embodied in the UNCLOS as a method to settle the dispute,” the President said.

“So at the very least, what we can get if they rule in our favor… then it will be clarified, what really are the rights and obligations of every state,” he said, adding “that’s the minimum.”

Aquino said a ruling “hopefully, will clarify all of the disputes and will lead to… a clear determination of the rights and obligations (of countries).”  

Gaven Reef, controlled by the Chinese, is located close to Itu-Aba, the biggest island in the Spratlys where the Taiwanese operate a garrison. Nearby is the Vietnamese-controlled Namyit Island.

Calderon or Cuarteron Reef is near the Malaysian maritime territory. Nearby are Central Reef, East Reef and Pearson Reef, all under the control of Vietnamese troops.

All these reefs in the Spratlys are located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Filipinos have naval detachments on seven islets and two reefs in the Spratlys.


For Del Rosario, China’s rejection of arbitration is irrelevant as proceedings will continue with or without Beijing’s participation.

“If China refused to participate, I don’t think that’s relevant as far as the outcome is concerned because the case will proceed with or without China and an award will be handed down final and unappealable,” Del Rosario told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEM conference.

“We’ve invited them as I mentioned many times. The decision for them not to participate is their own decision and I think they’ve taken a good look at what serves their national interest,” he said.

“It’s our position, as you know, that China should participate and the object of the whole exercise is to be able to clarify entitlements for everyone,” Del Rosario said.

The DFA chief admitted he is not very optimistic about China working for the adoption of a Code of Conduct (COC) with the ASEAN, saying Beijing’s actions are in pursuit of its expansionist agenda.

“We’ve been working very hard in terms of the expeditious conclusion of the COC, just as we were working on full and effective implementation of the DOC and I don’t see any desire on China’s part,” Del Rosario said. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude




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