Dont Escalate Tension, Manila Urges Beijing

THE PHILIPPINES on Friday urged China to refrain from any activity that would further escalate tension in the hotly contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Charles Jose, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), was reacting to a Hong Kong media report that Beijing may begin reclamation work at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal after the G20 Summit on September 4 to 5 in Hangzhou, China.

“We continue to call on all parties to refrain from doing anything that would further escalate the tension and we continue to call on all parties to exercise self-restraint and work with the regional effort to promote peace, security and stability in the region,” Jose told reporters.

Panatag, a resource-rich traditional fishing ground, is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where the country can exercise sovereign rights under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). China is a signatory to the treaty.

Relations between Manila and Beijing hit a low point after a July 12 ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated China’s historic claims to most of the South China Sea.

The South China Morning Post has reported that there would be no provocative action from China until after the G20 meeting in eastern China, but construction could begin before the US presidential election in November. This means China’s buildup may start between September 6 and November 8.

“Since the G20 will be held in Hangzhou next month, and regional peace will be the main topic among leaders of the great powers, China will refrain from [acting on the]reclamation plan,” the report quoted a source as saying.

“US President Barack Obama will focus on domestic issues ahead of the [US] election as he needs to pass down legacies before leaving office. That might make him busy and he might not have time to take care of regional security issues,” the source added.

The Philippines has the capacity to monitor what’s happening in Panatag, but the DFA still has to verify the Hong Kong report, Jose said.

Striking distance
The location of Panatag, 124 nautical miles northwest of Luzon, is strategic as it puts Chinese warships and fighter jets within striking distance of the Philippines’ main island.

China will also have easier and unguarded access to the Pacific Ocean through the Bashi Channel—a waterway between the Philippines and Taiwan—to attack the United States in the event of a war.

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to attend the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Laos on September 6 to 8 where he will meet the leaders of the US and China, but said on Wednesday he won’t raise the dispute.

Duterte told reporters he wanted the matter discussed in a bilateral setting.

“No, I will only bring the issue face-to-face [with China]… because if you quarrel with them now, claim sovereignty, make noise here and there, they might not just even want to talk,” he said.

“Let us create an environment where we can sit down and talk directly, and that is the time I would say, we proceed from here,” Duterte added.

Full report on Manila Times

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