THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should tackle China’s land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea as shown by photographs taken after 2015.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella made the statement yesterday when asked about the photos published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which showed China’s reclamation activities after 2015 – contrary to the claim of the regional giant that it has stopped reclamation projects in the disputed islets.
“The continuing reclamation and militarization in these waters, if the report and photos from a Washington-based think tank are accurate, these can be taken up by the ASEAN in future discussions, so we defer to ASEAN,” Abella said.
“The new developments, that will have to be taken up [in] future ASEAN discussions,” he added.
Abella said the AMTI photos should first be “vetted for accuracy.”
“It would be best if this apparent evidence can be vetted for accuracy if only to prove the trust and confidence that all disputants over the territory in South China Sea...need to have in each other moving forward,” Abella said.
The AMTI photos show that “Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north” of the South China Sea, “in the Paracel Islands,” features claimed not by the Philippines but by Vietnam.
The latest photos published by the CSIS were dated August 5, 2017.
Abella fielded questions on the issue in a news briefing three days after Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano echoed China in saying Beijing had stopped its reclamation in the South China Sea in mid-2015, which was disputed by the AMTI photos.
Cayetano had even wanted to exclude any mention of China’s land reclamation activities and militarization in a joint communiqué of ASEAN foreign ministers during their meeting in Manila last week.
The Washington-based think tank said it was “false” for Cayetano and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to claim that China’s reclamation activities ended in mid-2015 when it completed artificial islands in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.
The AMTI cited China’s reclamation work on Tree Island and North Island in the Paracels.
The Philippines, as this year’s chairman of ASEAN, plays a critical role in discussions during major summits and meetings by leaders and top officials. In November, ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from dialogue partners, including China, will gather in Clark Freeport in Pampanga for the 31st ASEAN Leaders’ Summit and Related Meetings.
Duterte has set aside any mention of the international court ruling won by the Philippines against in China.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assured necessary actions will be taken once the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (AMTI-CSIS) report that China has not stopped reclaiming in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) is proven.
“While there have been land reclamation activities that have taken place in the Paracels in the previous months based on the AMTI report, the same report did not indicate that such activity was taking place just prior to the AMM. We would like to assure the public that if ever there are reports to the contrary, these will be carefully studied, verified and handled accordingly,” a statement posted on the Facebook account of Foreign Secretary Cayetano said.
The same statement explained the remarks of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs during the press conference at the end of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Related Meetings on Tuesday must be taken in its full context.
It said in describing the process of discussions during the AMM, the Secretary noted that each ASEAN Member State goes into the talks with both their own national perspectives and the larger regional interest in mind.
“The position of the Philippines is to always reflect the current situation in the West Philippine Sea and the foreign policy direction of the Philippines — which is not to surrender a single inch of Philippine territory while at the same time working towards good neighborly relations with other claimants — is always based on the latest intelligence we have on the ground.”
The statement said the Secretary explained that while the Philippines came into the talks at a time when it had received no further reports of island building in features claimed by the Philippines, he agreed with the other ASEAN Foreign Ministers that concerns over land reclamation would still need to be reflected in the Joint Communique, in consideration of the probability that land reclamation may still be occurring or may yet occur in features in the South China Sea outside of the Philippine claim.
As chairman of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the Philippines’ primary goal was to ensure that the Joint Communique reflected the interests of the region and the ASEAN consensus. As such, the Joint Communique reflected the recent developments which promote confidence-building and contribute to reducing tensions in the region, such as the adoption of the Framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the operationalization of the Foreign Ministry-to-Foreign Ministry Hotlines and application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea, it added.