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PH can't say Benham Rise is theirs, China argues

MANILA, Philippines – Despite an official submission recognized by the United Nations, China argued that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory.

This comes after the Philippines on Friday, March 10, asked for a clarification on the reported presence of Chinese ships in the Benham Rise area, which the Philippines claims as part of its territory.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang on Friday confirmed the passage of Chinese vessels "for marine research" northeast of Luzon last year, "exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage only, without conducting any other activities or operations."

This, Beijing argued, was not a violation of any international law.

The recognition given in 2012 by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf allows the Philippines to explore and develop Benham Rise, but Geng stressed that "it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory."

He continued that based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the right of a country over the continental shelf does not affect the status of the waters or airspace above it, nor should it affect freedom of navigation in the area, in accordance with international law. 

Geng said during his press conference: "According to international law including UNCLOS, a coastal state's rights over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the airspace above those waters, nor do they affect foreign ships' navigation freedom in the coastal state's EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state's territorial sea as supported by international law."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also accused "some individuals" in the Philippines of "playing up" what they call "false information" that are "not consistent with the facts."

China's reaction came after the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy in Manila seeking clarification on the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship near the underwater plateau off the northeastern coast of Luzon.

The reported sighting of the Chinese survey ship in the area was first disclosed by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, March 9.

Benham Rise was officially claimed by the Philippines back in 2012 after the country successfully defended its claim before the UN. (READ: Filipinos conquer new territory: Benham Rise) – Rappler.com