Aquino: China has increased presence in disputed seas

Natashya Gutierrez
The President says based on the photos he has seen, there is only movement of ships and not reclamation activities for now

AGGRESSIVE CHINA. President Benigno Aquino III says there is a movement of Chinese ships around disputed areas. File photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – There is a movement of Chinese ships around disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Benigno Aquino III disclosed on Thursday, June 5.

Aquino said the latest reports he received included photos of ships in other disputed territories, specifically Gavin Reef and Cuarteron Reef in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys).

“In the reports we received, we are again bothered that there seems to be developments in other areas within the disputed seas. Amongst them is the movement of ships. We’re not saying that they are exactly the same ships that were used in Mabini, but there seems to be similar ships at the very least,” Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting on disaster risk reduction and management.

Last month, the Philippine government accused China of reclaiming land in Mabini (Johnson Reef) also in the Spratlys.

The President said that based on the photos he has seen, it seems there is only movement and not reclamation activities for now, but that the ships are capabale of reclamation.

The construction activities were first monitored by the Philippines in February 2014. On May 15, the Department of Foreign Affairs released photos of China’s “destabilizing” moves in the disputed seas. (See photos here)

China’s choice

Aquino also reacted to China’s refusal to participate in the legal process, after the arbitral tribunal handling the maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing ordered China on Wednesday, to respond to the case filed by the Philippines not later than December 15, 2014.

“If [China is] a responsible member of the international community, one would hope they would conform to all the treaties, covenants, and agreements that they have entered into, not just with us but with so many other countries, especially UNCLOS (United Nations Covenant on the Law of the Seas) that has so many signatories,” he said.

He said China has been invited to join the process, but it is their choice whether or not to participate, adding that regardless, “there will be a decision [on] whose claims are right.”

China and the Philippines are caught in a maritime dispute over territories in the South China Sea. China’s claim to nearly all of the area, which straddles vital sea lanes and is believed to sit on vast oil and gas reserves, has strained its ties with Southeast Asian countries. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int’l law)

On March 29, 2014, the Philippines submitted a nearly 4,000-page document, called a memorial, in a bid to end what it considered decades of bullying by China.

However, China has refused to acknowledge the designated arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear the case.  –

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