Locsin: China's weather stations 'not claims of ownership'

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday said he would ask the military about Chinese weather stations on artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea but said they do not seem to be an assertion of sovereignty.

He said media could also have verified China's claims. "I believe you should first verify it yourselves. If you heard that, it's very easy to just fly over it. I mean, don't you have that capability?" 

Although media has filed reports from parts of the South China Sea, these are usually done by tagging along on military patrols.

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"We can't respond to something that just pops up on the internet," he also said.

Told that China's Foreign Ministry had made the announcement on the weather stations, he responded: "And they call them weather stations... you take their word for it then?"

"I don't get it... what do you want us to do?" he also said.

"China announced it has put up weather stations... There it is... I don't think they're claims of ownership, [or] they're claims of sovereignty. They're weather stations. I'd ask the military later how they feel about that," Locsin said.

On November 1, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing had started operating a maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory and a national environmental and air quality monitoring stations on the Spratly Islands.

Despite this announcement from the Chinese government itself, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippine government would have to "look whether it's true or not."

"It is in a wrong interest to validate any claim whether it's for or against this government or for or against their own government," Panelo said earlier.

DFA  to take 'appropriate action'

Earlier this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is coordinating with the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, as well as concerned government agencies to verify China's establishment of weather stations on the Manila-claimed reefs.

"The department will take the appropriate action should these reports be validated," DFA spokesperson Elmer Cato said.

Asked whether the Philippines would file a protest against China for putting up weather stations in the Spratlys, Locsin said he prefers to "talk" as he had insisted every time other nations urged the Philippines to do so during his stint at the United Nations.

"Every time you send a note verbale and no one responds to it, what does it look like? ...I don't send notes verbale to people who don't even answer to it," Locsin said.

Maritime experts have been urging the Philippine government to protest Beijing's weather stations on the Spratly Islands as they also serve military purposes.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that acceptance of "public goods" could be seen as acquiescence to China's control of the disputed waterway.

"The Philippines should protest this latest action of China as it definitely part of the larger effort to assert China's claims to sovereignty/rights over the long run, and unilaterally impose its position on other littoral States," Batongbacal earlier said.

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