Binay not speaking for gov’t—Palace
Malacañang on Saturday said that Vice President Jejomar Binay was speaking for himself and not for the government when he expressed openness to a joint oil exploration with China in the disputed areas of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
“We have not verified the entirety of his statement. Nevertheless, if that is his position, that is his personal statement and not the official position of the government,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Coloma said the government was sticking to its chosen mode of dealing with China’s claim over the entire South China Sea and was pursuing its case against Beijing in the United Nations tribunal in The Hague to find a solution to the increasingly tense dispute.
“The government’s position has not changed, and that is what we’re pursuing,” Coloma told state radio.
Binay said on Thursday in Jakarta he would welcome a joint venture with China to explore for oil and gas in the disputed areas, while continuing to insist on Philippine sovereignty over the disputed areas.
“China has all the capital and we have the property, so why don’t we try and develop that property as a joint venture?” he had said.
Coloma said the region’s leaders were expected to tackle China’s reclamation activities on seven reefs of the Spratlys island chain during the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Malaysia that formally opens on Monday.
He said several countries had been alarmed by China’s activities over the past few weeks in an area that carries a large portion of international seaborne trade.
“It’s not only the Philippines but other countries as well that have expressed alarm over the reclamation activities because this has implications on regional peace and stability,” Coloma said in a radio interview.
China claims 90 percent of the 1.35-million-square-mile South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of the region.
Mr. Aquino has vowed to push anew for a code of conduct to be concluded during the summit as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a 2002 nonaggression pact between Asean and China, has failed to stop the conflicts in the sea.
Meanwhile, the Philippines on Friday accused China of aggressive maneuvers against its reconnaissance plane and fishermen in disputed seas where Beijing has stepped up construction of artificial islands, but China reiterated its claim on the strategic waterways.
A Chinese vessel flashed powerful lights and radioed a Philippine Navy plane to leave the area near one of the islands in the Spratlys chain, said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.
“This is an aggressive action on the part of the Chinese vessel,” Cabunoc said. “They said, ‘You’re entering Chinese territory, leave.’”
He said the incident happened last Sunday close to Subi Reef, which is near Pag-asa—also called Thitu—Island, which has been occupied by Philippine troops since the 1970s. Among the hundreds of Spratly isles, coral reefs and shoals, less than 50 are occupied by troops from countries with competing claims.
China in recent years has dispatched more vessels and patrols to stake its claim, alarming neighbors. Satellite images have shown massive reclamation work on seven islands, which the Philippines and the United States say could be used to build bases for refueling naval and air patrols and establishing a stronger military presence.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Philippine planes had “illegally flown over Chinese waters on numerous occasions recently” and Chinese forces had issued radio warnings. He said it was “untrue” that a powerful light was used against a Philippine plane.
He said China’s armed forces would continue to conduct surveillance in the waters and skies in the area, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. With a report from AP