Palace wants ASEAN to discuss China reclamation photos

Pia Ranada
Palace wants ASEAN to discuss China reclamation photos
While Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano insists China is no longer engaged in land reclamation in the disputed area, Malacañang thinks ASEAN should tackle photos showing such activities

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang said on Friday, August 11, that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should tackle the photos of China’s land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea taken after 2015.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella made the statement on Friday, when asked about the photos published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which showed China’s reclamation activities after 2015 – contrary to the claim of the regional giant.

“The continuing reclamation and militarization in these waters, if the report and photos from a Washington-based think tank are accurate, these can be taken up by the ASEAN in future discussions, so we defer to ASEAN,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Friday, August 11.

“The new developments, that will have to be taken up [in] future ASEAN discussions,” he added.

Abella said the AMTI photos should first be “vetted for accuracy.”

“It would be best if this apparent evidence can be vetted for accuracy if only to prove the trust and confidence that all disputants over the territory in South China Sea…need to have in each other moving forward,” said President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman.

The AMTI photos show that “Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north” of the South China Sea, “in the Paracel Islands,” features claimed not by the Philippines but by Vietnam.

The latest photos published by the CSIS were dated August 5, 2017.

Abella fielded questions on the issue in a news briefing 3 days after Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano echoed China in saying Beijing had stopped its reclamation in the South China Sea in mid-2015, which was disputed by the AMTI photos.

Cayetano had even wanted to exclude any mention of China’s land reclamation activities and militarization in a joint communiqué of ASEAN foreign ministers during their meeting in Manila last week.

The Washington-based think tank said it was “false” for Cayetano and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to claim that China’s reclamation activities ended in mid-2015 when it completed artificial islands in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.

The AMTI cited China’s reclamation work on Tree Island and North Island in the Paracels.

“AMTI previously reported on work at these features, which has continued in recent months,” the think tank said. 

The Philippines, as this year’s chairman of ASEAN, plays a critical role in discussions during major summits and meetings by leaders and top officials.  In November, ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from dialogue partners, including China, will gather in Clark Freeport in Pampanga for the 31st ASEAN Leaders’ Summit and Related Meetings.

In the previous administration, the Philippines was among the major voices in the regional bloc calling for stronger wording in ASEAN statements against China and its aggression in the South China Sea.

Under the Duterte government, however, this changed, with the Philippines more and more echoing China’s stance, in line with the Philippines pivot towards China under the new leader.

Duterte has set aside any mention of the international court ruling won by the Philippines against in China. –


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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at