MANILA, Philippines – Is the Chinese embassy in the Philippines lying to Beijing about the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff that has now entered its 3rd week?
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday, April 25, criticized statements on the issue that “are contrary to reality,” the subject of a note verbale it sent to the Chinese embassy on the same day.
In the note verbale, the DFA singled out a supposed Chinese statement that the mainland has become “more assertive” after the Philippines allegedly broke an agreement on the pullout of fishing boats and ships from Scarborough Shoal.
“The DFA pointed out that there has never been an agreement reached. The DFA is of the view that it was unfortunate that the Chinese response was based on an inaccurate appreciation of the facts and dynamics of the negotiations,” the DFA said in a statement.
It also said the dialogue between the Philippines and China “must be based on complete trust and the confidence that information to be conveyed to the capitals must be an accurate rendition of facts.”
In a text message to Rappler, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the note verbale was referring to China's statements in the Agence France-Presse story titled, “China summons PH diplomat over sea dispute,” published April 18.
In the story, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said the Philippine military vessels' alleged harassment of Chinese fishing vessels in Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island) has drawn China's “high concern.”
“We hope the Philippine side will honor its commitments and withdraw its ships in relevant waters immediately so that the waters off Huangyan Island can return to peace and stability,” Liu said.
Rappler is still trying to reach the Chinese embassy for comment as of posting time.
The DFA wants things to be “factual,” explained DFA's Hernandez in a press briefing.
“Whatever happens here in Manila and in the discussions that are being done in Manila, should be reflected and conveyed to their Foreign Ministry in Beijing factually,” Hernandez said.
A day earlier, the Philippines belied China's claim it only had one vessel remaining in Scarborough Shoal, with at least 7 Chinese vessels still sighted in the area.
Latest reports show at least 8 Chinese vessels remain in Scarborough Shoal, Hernandez said in Wednesday's press briefing.
One of these is China's most advanced fishery patrol ship, Yuzheng 310, and another is Chinese maritime surveillance ship no. 71.
The 6 others are fishing boats, Hernandez said.
The Philippines, on the other hand, has 4 vessels in the Scarborough Shoal area – BRP Pampanga, a vessel from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and 2 Filipino fishing vessels.
In its latest statement, China warned the Philippines about “internationalizing” the Scarborough Shoal dispute, explaining it will “only complicate and magnify the situation.”
“We do not wish to see the Philippines get other countries involved and get them to take sides over the issue,” said Liu of China's foreign ministry in an interview with reporters Wednesday.
This is contrary to what the Philippines wants to happen in the ongoing dispute.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has urged other nations to take a stand on the Scarborough Shoal standoff, explaining it could affect them, too.
“Since the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the (South China Sea) are of great import to many nations, all should consider what China is endeavoring to do in the Scarborough Shoal,” Del Rosario said.
Int'l marine reserve
Meanwhile, an expert said the issues in South China Sea should now take another international form – environmentally speaking.
In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, top environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr suggested the Philippines should move to declare the entire Spratly Islands and the West Philippine Sea — within which Scarborough Shoal is located — as an international marine reserve.
“By doing that, we will not directly antagonize any of the claimant countries. Instead, the Philippines will be taking the moral high road, and thereby earn the respect of the world that is increasingly more environmentally aware,” Oposa said in the piece that was originally a letter to the President.
“Rather than fight with the claimant countries in competition to use resources for the present, we will bring the countries together in cooperation to reserve resources for the future,” Oposa said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.