Presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island 'beyond reproach' — China

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island 'beyond reproach' � China
Hundreds of Chinese vessels have been spotted in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratly chain in the South China Sea, while the Philippines is repairing its dilapidated runway on the island.
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MANILA, Philippines — Insisting sovereignty over Pag-asa Island, or what the Chinese call Zhongye Island, Beijing said the presence of fishing vessels in the area was "beyond reproach," according to a report.

The Philippine military had confirmed that hundreds of Chinese ships have been loitering near the island, which the Department of Foreign Affairs deemed illegal as it violates Philippine sovereignty.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the Chinese Foreign Ministry continues to insist that Beijing has sovereignty over Pag-asa Island, as well as the adjacent waters.

"Chinese fishing boats and fishermen's operations in these waters have not changed much this year compared with previous years," the Chinese Foreign Ministry told WSJ.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier warned China to "lay off" on Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratly chain.

The municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province has jurisdiction over Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

"I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off Pag-asa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that's a different story. I will tell the soldiers 'prepare for suicide mission,'" Duterte said in a speech last week.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, on the other hand, said the president may raise the 2016 arbitral ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal before the United Nations General Assembly.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark ruling that invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea. The international tribunal also concluded that China violated its commitment under the Convention on the Law of the Sea when it constructed artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

If bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China do not lead to a resolution, Panelo said the next step would be to raise it before the UN.

"We are a member of the United Nations and there are cases where certain issues, which affect humanity, are raised in the General Assembly, then the General Assembly makes a unified action. Maybe that's the next step," Panelo said.

Manila and Beijing convened the fourth meeting of the bilateral consultation mechanism last week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the two countries agreed that "differences" in the South China Sea "should be peacefully resolved through friendly consultation and negotiation by sovereign states directly concerned."

Geng described the meeting as "candid, friendly and constructive."

Asked about the Philippine government's position on the presence of Chinese boats surrounding Pag-asa Island, the Chinese official said both parties "agreed to uphold a cooperative attitude in resolving the relevant issues."

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said the presence of Chinese ships on Philippine waters is a clear violation of the country's sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

"Such actions when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it," the DFA said.

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