MANILA, Philippines—South Korea has denied a news report that China had pressured Seoul not to sell fighter jets to the Philippines amid a territorial dispute between Beijing and Manila, the South Korean state news agency Yonhap reported on Monday.
“I have checked this and was told that it is not true and there was no official request from China, or something like that,” Yonhap quoted an unnamed presidential official as saying. The official declined to elaborate.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported on Saturday, citing unidentified Seoul officials, that China had made the demand ahead of last week’s summit between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and President Aquino, but that Seoul rejected it.
The demand appears to be aimed at isolating the Philippines, which has been at odds with China over a territorial row in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea to the Philippine government), the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
South Korea and the Philippines have been in negotiations for the latter to purchase 12 Korean-made FA-50 fighter jets to boost the Philippines’ defense capabilities. During last week’s summit, the two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding calling for greater defense cooperation.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun report, Seoul had rejected the Chinese demand, saying it cannot accept “interference” in arms exports, an issue of national interest.
In their meeting, Park thanked Aquino for the Philippines’ decision to buy the FA-50 jets and urged a speedy signing of the contract, the Japanese paper said.
Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said: “We don’t have any information about the alleged pressure being exerted by China on the Republic of Korea.”
Meanwhile, a report in a Seoul-based newspaper, The Choisunilbo, on Monday said that while the Korean government has officially denied the Yomiuri report, officials privately admit it.
The paper quoted a Korean government official as saying that the sale of the fighter jets to the Philippines would push through.
“The Philippines is engaged in a territorial dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, and that appears to be why Beijing protested several times through the Chinese Embassy and other channels,” the official was quoted as saying.