The Philippines has asserted the country’s exclusive right to develop those parts of the disputed Spratlys archipelago within its exclusive economic zone in the wake of China’s objections to the government’s reported plan to rehabilitate and build new infrastructures on Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The Philippines was well within international law in asserting administrative powers over the Kalayaan island group (KIG), which is part of the Spratly group that China claims in its entirety, said Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Pag-asa is an island in the Kalayaan chain some 285 nautical miles (roughly 528 kilometers) from Palawan where the Philippines has long established a military and civilian presence.
“Pag-asa island is part of the KIG over which the Philippines exercises territorial sovereignty, jurisdiction and effective administration in accordance with international law,” Hernandez said in a statement.
“The waters and continental shelf around and between the KIG and the Philippine archipelago form part of the national territory of the Philippines. The development of Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea is an exercise of [Philippine] sovereignty, which all countries should respect,” he said.
Hernandez was reacting to a Beijing statement opposing the fortification of Pag-asa island, where the Philippine military has made plans to rehabilitate the deteriorating runway and to build new infrastructure facilities.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei had said in a press briefing on Monday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratlys, a resource-rich group of islets and atolls that the Chinese call Nansha.
He called on the Philippines to “comply with established parameters of conduct among claimant nations in the disputed waters,” the same appeal the DFA had made to China in response to Beijing’s recent activities which the Philippines regards as incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
Even as it expressed opposition to the Philippine plans for Pag-asa’s development, the Chinese government is pursuing plans to spend $1.6 billion to develop Sansha, the controversial administrative city that Beijing established last year to ostensibly govern the Spratlys.
The Philippines has a standing protest against the establishment of Sansha City, saying its administrative scope encroached into territories within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Just last week, the DFA called on China to “act responsibly and refrain from taking further action that will heighten tensions” in the disputed waters following reports that China’s has been conducting military drills and sea patrols in the West Philippine Sea.