Gov’t insists multilateral talks needed amid China’s reclamation in disputed area

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MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Wednesday reiterated that it does not want to escalate tensions in the West Philippine Sea amid reports that China is building a possible airstrip in the area.

Instead, it said President Benigno Aquino III wanted a multilateral approach since the disputed area also involves Vietnam.

“So there are three claimant countries. And for this particular reason, this is one instance where the President’s insistence on a multilateral discussion rather than a bilateral dialogue holds true,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing.

Lacierda said the National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin informed him that China appears to reclaiming land in the disputed Mabini (Johnson) reef in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), however, already told Associated Press that it believes that the Chinese may be building an airstrip or an offshore military base.

The Presidential Spokesperson said Malacañang will have to defer to the pronouncement of the DFA and the Department of National Defense.

“Our position is we do not want to escalate any tension between China and the Philippines,” he insisted.

Lacierda said the government’s decision to pursue international dispute resolution is an “effective means” of concluding the conflict in a peaceful manner.

The DFA on Wednesday confirmed that the Philippines lodged a protest against China last April 4 but “the Chinese side rejected the protest.”

“The Philippines already included Mabini Reef in the Memorial to clarify Mabini Reef’s physical character,” the statement said.

Last March, the government filed a 4,000-page memorandum on its claims in the West Philippine Sea before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

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