By Alexis Romero (philstar.com)
MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday maintained that the Philippines has been complying with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and that it was China who has been violating it.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin
The red symbol marks the location of Renai Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, in the Spratly Islands. (From Google Maps)
MANILA, Philippines – China is concerned that the Philippines might build structures in Ayungin Shoal, an area well within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
China, notorious for building structures in disputed areas it is claiming, raised the issue during an informal talk between Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.
Gazmin, however, said the government is just sending ships in the shoal to provide supplies to soldiers monitoring the area.
“They (China) were concerned that the Philippines is coming up with structures, additional structures in the Ayungin Shoal,” the defense chief told reporters in an ambush interview.
“I told her (Ma) that the ship that is moving towards Ayungin Shoal is only for provisions of food and water for soldiers who are there,” he added.
China’s move came as a surprise as it seems to be questioning the Philippines’ actions in its own territory.
The Philippines, however, assured China that is has no plans to build infrastructure in Ayungin Shoal in an apparent effort to deescalate tensions.
“We will not violate the agreement by building new structures. We said we will just bring provisions, supply like water and food and personnel there,” Gazmin said.
“The ships are also for the rotation of troops. We cannot place people there permanently. They’ll go insane,” he added.
Chinese envoy initiated the talk
In an ambush interview, Ma evaded questions about West Philippine Sea issues, claiming that her talk with Gazmin was just about the relationship between China and the Philippines.
“We also talked about the balanced relations. I think China is ready to develop cooperation and very good exchanges between the two sides because this year is the year of friendly exchanges between our two countries,” the Chinese envoy said.
“We are ready to promote the cooperation and exchanges between the two countries,” she added.
When asked whether they talked about the Philippines’ diplomatic protest against China, Ma said: “Sorry, I really I have to go, see you later.”
Ma initiated the informal talk with Gazmin, which lasted for about 10 minutes. She sought audience with Gazmin on the sidelines of the celebration of the Peacekeepers Day in Camp Aguinaldo.
Sources said Ma seemed to be determined to meet with Gazmin, who took her to a corner of the Armed Forces Commissioned Officers Club.
“I’d like to talk to the secretary. I have a message for him,” Ma was quoted by a source as saying.
Nobody heard the conversation between Gazmin and Ma, who appeared serious in explaining their points. They, however, were seen smiling at each other as they parted.
Ayungin Shoal is 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and forms part of the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
It is part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan and is one of the areas occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
On May 10, the Philippines filed a protest against China for its illegal deployment of vessels around the shoal.
The protest decried the provocative presence of two Chinese maritime surveillance vessel and one warship around the area, which constitutes a violation of international law.
China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.
Chinese tightens grip in West Phl Sea
China has been asserting its claims in the West Philippine Sea by building structures in disputed areas in a move that raised concerns among other claimants in the region.
It has built a military garrison in the Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef, one of the areas being claimed by the Philippines.
Mischief Reef, which is about 70 nautical miles from Palawan, has been occupied by China since 1995.
China initially built structures on stilts at the reef, supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen but these were later on transformed into a military garrison with powerful radars.
China has also installed a powerful radar station in Subi Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan Island. The Chinese began constructing the four-story structure, including a lighthouse about seven years ago.
China has also sent ships around the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), another Philippine-owned area located124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales.
Photo: Subi Reef now has a Chinese radar station
By UCAN — (May 29, 2013)
China yesterday warned Manila that it was concerned over Filipino activity related to a shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing relayed Beijing’s concerns to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on the sidelines of an event in Manila to mark the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.
“They were concerned about the Philippines coming up with additional structures on Ayungin Shoal,” Gazmin told reporters after meeting with Ma.
Filipino soldiers have occupied the shoal since 1999 using a grounded ship as a base.
Gazmin said the Philippines will not put up structures in the occupied areas in compliance with a 2002 code of conduct agreed between the countries which have laid a claim to the Spratly’s. These countries also includes Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
A Philippine navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a logistics ship will soon depart for the Spratly Islands to deliver supplies. Navy chief Vice-Admiral Jose Luis Alano refused to give details of the upcoming resupply mission but said China should not be bothered by it.
Gazmin confirmed that he briefed the Chinese ambassador on the mission.
In response, Ma said that China was “ready to promote cooperation and exchanges between the two countries.”
The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China after 30 fishing boats, escorted by a Chinese navy frigate and two maritime surveillance ships, were spotted at the shoal on May 8.
The Philippines claims Ayungin Shoal, which is located 170 kilometers from Palawan province, as part of its territory within a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In recent years, China has been more assertive in its claim to the archipelago of more than 750 reefs, atolls and islets as an area within what it calls the nine-dotted line extending across much of the South China Sea.
The Spratly’s, which only constitute a total of four square-kilometers, are believed to contain vast mineral deposits.
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