Palace expects Chinese vessels to leave soon due to Philippines' friendship with China

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace expects Chinese vessels to leave soon due to Philippines' friendship with China
File photo of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
AFP / Ted Aljibe, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang Thursday expressed confidence that Chinese ships would leave Julian Felipe Reef because of the friendship between the Philippines and China as it urged the public to allow President Rodrigo Duterte to address the issue.

Last month, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea revealed that more than 200 Chinese ships were spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

The Philippines has protested the presence of the ships at the reef, an area where it is supposed to enjoy the exclusive right to exploit or conserve resources. China has insisted that the area is part of what it calls Nansha island and that the ships were just seeking refuge from the "bad weather."

Business groups have joined calls for China to withdraw its vessels from the area, saying Julian Felipe Reef is "historically and by law undisputed Philippine territory, as was most clearly established in the 2016 ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

The joint statement, which was signed by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Filipina CEO Circle, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, Judicial Reform Initiative, Iloilo Business Club, and Cebu Business Club, also called on China to "refrain from becoming an imperial power."

Asked during a press briefing Thursday when the Palace expects the Chinese ships to leave the West Philippine Sea, presidential spokesman Harry Roque replied: "Well hindi ko po masasabi iyan ‘no pero inaasahan po natin na iyong malapit na pagkakaibigan natin magiging dahilan kung bakit sila ay aalis nang mas maaga kaysa na mas matagal (I cannot say when but we expect that the close friendship will be the reason why they will leave sonner and not later)."

Roque said Duterte should be given the chance to resolve the dispute but declined to provide details on how the president intends to do so.

"The field of diplomacy is an exception to freedom (of) information. Whatever the president is doing, let us allow him to do it privately and whatever diplomatic initiatives being undertaken by the president should not be made public. It is covered by the exception because the president must make the right decision no matter what," the Palace spokesman said.  

"So let’s leave the president to his devices. We have seen that so far, in the past five years of his administration, we have moved from a position of antagonism with China to a position of friendship and we have benefited a lot from the talks with China," he added.

Roque reiterated that the Philippines remains committed to the codification of a binding code of conduct for South China Sea claimants.
Duterte has been forging warmer ties with China in a move that officials said is consistent with the Philippines' independent foreign policy. Critics have accused Duterte of abandoning the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea in exchange for Chinese aid but officials deny this, saying he won't surrender "even an inch" of the country's territory to foreigners. 

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