DFA defends Cayetano claim on China reclamation
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) defended the statement of Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano that China has stopped its South China Sea reclamation activities in 2015, a claim refuted by a US-based think tank.
In a statement Friday, August 11, the DFA explained that the Philippines' position on the South China Sea dispute "is always based on the latest intelligence we have on the ground."
Cayetano's remarks "must be taken in its full context," the DFA added.
Cayetano made his claim when he justified on Tuesday, August 8, why the Philippines sought to exclude China's land reclamation activities from a joint statement by foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Cayetano said that including land reclamation in the joint statement is "not reflective" of the situation. "They're not reclaiming land anymore, so why will you put it again this year?"
On Wednesday, August 9, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released photos that refuted Cayetano's claim.
The AMTI's satellite images, as of August 5, show that China continued its reclamation activities in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea after 2015.
No report of reclamation
The DFA released a statement on Friday to defend Cayetano's claim.
DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar explained that in the months immediately preceding the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM), "the Philippines did not receive any report of island building or land reclamation."
"While there have been land reclamation activities that have taken place in the Paracels in the previous months based on the AMTI report, the same report did not indicate that such activity was taking place just prior to the AMM," the DFA said.
"We would like to assure the public that if ever there are reports to the contrary, these will be carefully studied, verified and handled accordingly," the DFA added.
"The Secretary explained that while the Philippines came into the talks at a time when it has received no further reports of island building in features claimed by the Philippines, he agreed with the other ASEAN foreign ministers that concerns over land reclamation would still need to be reflected in the joint communiqué, in consideration of the probability that land reclamation may still be occurring or may yet occur in features in the South China Sea outside of the Philippine claim," the DFA said.
Aside from the Philippines, other claimants to the South China Sea in the ASEAN are Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Cayetano's claim on China's land reclamation echoes the position of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang said in Manila on Monday, August 7: "I also want to tell you that two years ago, China had already completed the reclamation. That is something that I can tell you for sure."
The CSIS, however, had photos of reclamation in the Paracels in 2016, way before the Philippines went full steam ahead in preparing for the AMM.
Cayetano was apparently unaware of these CSIS photos.
Cayetano in fact said in a press conference on July 26: "What I've noticed about CSIS is they don't give you all the pictures. So why don't some of you here ask them, could you give us the pictures or can you tell us what's happening in the whole West Philippine Sea, in the whole South China Sea, because if they show that, everyone will be protesting against each other."
Cayetano also believes that the CSIS, an independent non-profit think tank founded in 1962, is "for American interests, not necessarily Filipino interests." – Rappler.com