MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr disclosed on Thursday, February 23, that China has promised not to build facilities on the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"They have told it to us, that they are not building. In fact, if reports are correct, they have also made this commitment to the United States," Yasay said in an interview with reporters during his annual meeting with the press on Thursday.
Yasay said the Chinese government made this commitment when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China in October 2016. (READ: What Duterte accomplished in China)
He said Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping "both agreed" to this arrangement.
Yasay explained, "China has indicated, in so far as I understand it, that they will not, they have desisted from building on this."
Referring to China, he said: "There seemed to have been a threat before or a perception that they were going to build. In fact, there were intelligence reports coming from the Americans that they were poised to send dredging vessels precisely to convert this shoal into artificial islands."
"But now we are happy and assured of the fact that they will not do so," the Philippines' top diplomat added, declining to give more details.
Yasay said, however, that if China builds on Panatag Shoal, this will be a "game-changer" in Manila's approach toward Beijing.
In November 2016, photos released by a US-based think tank suggested that China is still blocking Filipino fishermen's access to Panatag Shoal.
Before this, Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said the Philippines and China have reached a "friendly" understanding allowing Filipinos to fish around Panatag Shoal as well. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.