China blasts proposed permanent Filipino structures in Ayungin, calls it illegal

James Relativo - Philstar.com
China blasts proposed permanent Filipino structures in Ayungin, calls it illegal
Photo of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning last December 29, 2023
Released / Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing's Foreign Ministry vehemently opposed plans by Manila's government to construct a permanent structure within the West Philippine Sea to shelter Filipino fisherfolk, calling the move as "inconsistent with international law."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning made the statement on Friday following an earlier announcement by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar regarding the controversial Ayungin Shoal.

"Ren’ai Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Qundao. China has indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Qundao, including Ren’ai Jiao, and their adjacent waters. This was established in the long course of history and is consistent with international law including the UN Charter," said Mao.

"It is against the principles of international law and legally untenable for the Philippines to cite the 'award' of the South China Sea arbitration, which is illegal, null and void, to claim that Ren’ai Jiao falls within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and deny China’s sovereignty over it," he added.

Ayungin Shoal, also called "Ren’ai Jiao" by the Chinese, is well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The region falls within the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea inside Manila's EEZ.

To this day, Beijing continues to assert their sovereign right to the area even if the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) already invalidated their nine-dash line claim in 2016. The PCA currently has an observer status within the United Nations.

As a result, Beijing refers to the Spratly Islands as "Nansha Qundao." Although the Philippines holds and asserts ownership over a significant portion of the Spratlys, various countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia have also established occupation of certain features within the area.

"Ren’ai Jiao is an uninhabited shoal. According to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and ASEAN countries, parties should keep Ren’ai Jiao uninhabited and facility-free," Mao said.

"The spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines blatantly claimed that the Philippines will build a permanent structure... This will severely infringe on China’s sovereignty, and violate international law and the DOC. China will take resolute measures against any violation of our sovereignty and provocation, and firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests," he added.

Shelter for Filipino fisherfolk

Last Tuesday, Aguilar revealed the government's vision for Ayungin, emphasizing that it will remain part of an inter-agency program for future planning.

"The structure that we've mentioned is like a shelter for fisherfolk, and therefore will involve different government agencies," said Aguilar during a "Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon" public briefing.

"Now, we in the AFP will be ready to undertake or to perform our task that will be given in the implementation of that project."

Former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier said that the Philippines should build civilian structures within Ayungin Shoal such as lighthouses, marine scientific research centers and the like since it's well within the country's EEZ.

China's persistent presence in the West Philippine Sea has led to multiple instances of harassment, including incidents involving the use of water cannons, laser attacks, and other forms of aggression against the Philippine Coast Guard and local Filipino fishermen.

Previously, countries like the United States have expressed their support for the Philippines, affirming their readiness to defend Manila in case tensions escalate further.

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